"I don’t have a problem making it harder. […] I want people in Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who walks 200 miles across the desert. This should not be easy."
Florida state Senator Mike Bennett, sponsor of a 2011 bill that dramatically changed the rules for both early voting and voter registration in Florida. In late May of this year, a federal judge blocked the law’s most controversial provisions pending a trial.
If reinstated, Bennett’s bill could unravel years of work by voting rights activists like Bracy to tear down the barriers that discourage African-Americans, Latinos and young people in particular from participating in our democracy. The law mandated for the first time in Florida’s history that people who conduct voter registration drives must themselves register with the state before signing up new voters. Once they register a new voter, they have forty-eight hours to submit that registration to the county under exacting specifications. Late or improper applications can result in stiff fines or even felony fraud charges and jail time. These requirements were burdensome enough to scare away even national groups with sophisticated processes for ensuring their registrations are valid. As the League of Women Voters’ Florida chapter president, Deirdre McNab, told MSNBC’s Al Sharpton, “These new laws frighten people from registering voters.”
The racial impact of Bennett’s bill is clear. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, black and Latino Floridians are more than twice as likely as white voters to register to vote through community-based voter registration drives. In 2008, more than 1.1 million black voters cast ballots in Florida, a record turnout driven in no small part by registration campaigns led by black churches.