TAMPA - Governor Rick Scott signed a sweeping election reform law this week that will cut early voting days nearly in half and make other dramatic changes.
Supporters say the law will prevent fraud, but voter rights groups, including the non-partisan League of Women Voters, say it's a blatant attempt to suppress voting.
Under the new law that takes effect immediately, early voting will be reduced from 15 days to eight, but because counties have the option of keeping their early voting locations open longer, the number of early voting hours could remain the same at 96.
But it's the new restrictions on voter registration groups that has caused the most uproar.
“This is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. There is no voter fraud in Florida,” fumed Hillsborough League of Women Voters president Mickey Cantor.
After 70 years, the league announced last week that they would stop registering voters in Florida because the law subjects their volunteers to steep fines if they don’t return filled-out registration forms to the supervisor of elections office within 48 hours. Under the previous law, they had 10 days.
The Republican-backed law also ends a long-standing policy of letting voters who have moved from one county to another to update their new addresses at the polls. They will be issued provisional ballots that are often not counted.
Brad Ashwell of the Florida Public Interest Research Group says it will increase the chances that someone’s vote is going to be thrown out when they do vote.
“It’s a bad bill. It's going to hurt voters and make it harder to vote” claimed Ashwell.
Governor Rick Scott signed the bill despite a flood of opposing calls and emails. Many claim it’s a deliberate attempt to decrease turnout among poor, minority and younger, more transient voters that tend to vote Democratic.
Governor Scott hasn't commented on his decision, but the state's top election chief is supporting the reforms.
Secretary of State Kurt Browning said, “I believe when you start looking at the details of the bill, that it doesn't negatively impact Florida voters. And where the impact is, I think it's justified.
To protect minority voting rights, the U.S. Justice Department must approve any change in Florida election law in five Florida counties.. They are Collier, Hardy, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe counties.
As a result, Florida’s new election reforms will not go into effect in those counties unless and until the law is cleared by the Justice Department.
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