Republican-backed voting laws blamed for drop in new voter registrations

Democrats call it voter suppression

TAMPA, Fla. - 81,000 fewer new voters.

That's what one researcher says is the difference from four years ago, before new, restrictive voter registration laws went into effect in Florida.   It's just what opponents of the laws feared would happen.
When Governor Rick Scott signed the law that requires volunteers registering voters in Florida to register with the state last year, the reaction was swift and angry.

It was called voter suppression and "Jim Crowesque."

Even the non-partisan League of Women Voters refused to go by the new rules that gave them only 48 hours to submit registration forms to the state.

"The law is vague and cumbersome and it would put our volunteers at personal risk of fines, so we decided instead to challenge it in court," said Mickey Castor of the League of Women Voters.

Republican lawmakers who supported the bill claimed the restrictions would reduce voter fraud,

"The mere allegation that there may be room for fraud... to me seems reasonable that the legislature should make sure it's a tight process," said Lakeland Republican State Representative Seth McKeel late last year.

Countering that argument is the fact that there have been only a handful of cases of voter fraud statewide. Hillsborough County's Supervisor of Elections, Earl Lennard couldn't name one case in his three years on the job.

Democrats complain that the law is designed to suppress voter registration of young people, minorities and the poor -- groups that traditionally lean Democratic.

University of Tampa government professor Scott Paine says that's not as true as it used to be.

"If you look at the young, college age population, it's a mixed bag, not clearly Democratic or Republican as, say four years ago or eight years ago," said Paine.  

University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith believes the drop in new voter registrations are a direct result of these new laws.  Others, mainly Republicans, say it's more likely a lack of enthusiasm for Barack Obama compared to the last election.

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