Thursday, January 17, 2013

Report says changes to Florida's electoral system in 2012 negatively affected minority voters

Posted By on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 at 12:24 PM

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A new report about the 2012 election in Florida stated that controversial changes to the state's electoral system had a negative effect on voter participation. Shortly after the report was released, Gov. Rick Scott said he wants voting changes enacted for the 2014 elections.

In a press release, Scott said reforms need to address three major areas: shorter ballots, more early voting days (with the option of the Sunday before Election Day), and more early voting locations.

His list isn't far off from a set of proposals issued earlier this week by the Florida League of Women Voters.

On Thursday morning, the league hosted a conference call where University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith spoke about his report (co-written by Dartmouth professor of government Michael C. Herron) on the effects of the Florida Legislature's 2011 HB 1355. He said public data from the Florida Division of Elections provides evidence that the law "likely contributed to a decrease in early voting in 2012 compared to 2008; had differential effects on racial and ethnic minorities regarding the availability of early voting; and affected the rates at which provisional ballots and absentee ballots were rejected."

Smith said decreasing early voting days (from 14 days in 2008 to eight in 2012) "had an amazing affect on those who've used early voting." He said 46 percent of African-Americans voted during that shortened period.

"They bore disproportionately the long lines that we all witnessed," he added.

What did increase in 2012 was absentee voting. in 2012, 2.37 million absentee ballots were cast, up from 1.85 million in 2008. However, nearly 1 percent of those ballots — more than 23,000 — were rejected as illegal by county canvassing boards. Smith said African-Americans and Latinos were likely to cast absentee ballots that were rejected, though he couldn't pinpoint why that was the case.

Lee Rowland is with the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law. She said Florida is one of "too many" state legislatures that passed laws after the 2010 election making it harder for people to register and vote across the country. She added, "Florida was at the forefront of these restrictions," calling HB 1355 a "smorgasbord of voter restrictions."

Rowland said her organization is advocating national standards to minimize long lines at the polls by calling for modernizing voter registration efforts.

Deirdre Macnab, President of League of Women Voters of Florida, called electoral reform something that should be considered an economic priority for the state. She said embarrassing news accounts of long lines at the polls on Election Day could dissuade corporations from relocating to Florida.

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