At the Leon County Courthouse, 2020 voters could vote early in person or by dropping their ballots in a drop box. Credit: Diane Rado
Voting rights advocates say that the combination of proposals in a new election bill as well as the state’s recent exit from a multi-state compact could lead to the increased potential purging of eligible voters.
The groups are now voicing alarms about proposed changes in how supervisors of elections need to maintain their voter registration rolls, part of a quickly crafted 98-page elections bill (SB 7050) filed last week in the Florida Senate that includes dozens of potential changes to election laws.
As to voter rolls, one proposal would limit the amount of correspondence a supervisor of elections official would need to contact a voter when they receive information from the U.S. Postal Service that a voter is no longer at his or her registered address.
Current law says if an address confirmation request is returned as undeliverable without indication of an address change, the supervisor shall send an address confirmation final notice to all addresses on file for the voter. The proposed bill deletes the section “to all addresses on file.”
“Now they’re only going to send it to the last address on file,” complains Cecile Scoon, the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “It’s all going in the direction of ‘we’re not going to work that hard to find you. And we’re going to just accept any old thing to get rid of you.'”
But Lake County Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays says that the current provision is “absurd,” and he supports that change.
“We’ve got some addresses and some of these voter records that are 25 years old or older, and it’s absolutely senseless to be sending something addressed to somebody where they lived 30 years ago if they’ve moved 14 times since in that 30 years,” he says.
Another proposal includes the supervisors of elections receiving change-of-address information from clerks of the court reporting responses to jury notices. Current law says that the supervisors of elections can receive a change of address from the clerks of the court reporting responses to jury notices “signed by the voter and returned to the courts.”
The proposed bill removes the requirement of getting that voter’s signature.
“They (supervisors of election) can just get information from a courthouse,” says Scoon, of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “So what’s a courthouse going to say? ‘I wrote this letter two times and didn’t hear an answer?’ Well, not everybody wants to do jury duty. They’re not able to take that time off from work, and the fact that they didn’t answer for jury duty, that’s meaningless with voting. But they actually have that in there.”
The proposed changes in how supervisors of elections maintain voter lists came shortly after Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd announced that the state was withdrawing from the multi-state compact known as the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). The consortium helps with keeping voter rolls accurate when people move to different states. It can also be used to help identify and prosecute those who have double-voted across state lines.
Florida is one of five states with Republicans leading their election offices to leave ERIC this year. In a press release issued by the Department of State last month, Byrd said the announcement “follow efforts led by Florida over the past year to reform ERIC through attempts to secure data and eliminate ERIC’s partisan tendencies, all of which were rejected.” But Byrd has never listed what those partisan tendencies were.
The departure has frustrated voting rights group in Florida.
“The state just gave up a widely praised tool that they used to keep updated and accurate voting rolls and at the same time now they’re making it harder for election supervisors to contact inactive voters before they get removed from the voter rolls and that’s not fair,” says Abdelilah Skhir, the ACLU of Florida’s voting rights policy strategist.
Some election supervisors in Florida also aren’t clear on why the state opted to leave ERIC.
“ERIC was the best way that we had to be kept up to date on interstate changes,” says Hays, a Republican who represented parts of Central Florida in the House and Senate for 12 years before being elected as supervisor of elections in 2016. “And without that, we’re going to be without that resource of information…ERIC was working fine for us.”
Hays adds that “there was no indication from the supervisors that we needed to withdraw from ERIC at all.”
In addition, Democratic House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell says a change in the proposed election bill will have a deleterious effect on Black voters. She referenced a provision that gives a local supervisor of elections the option of adding an extra day of early voting by getting rid of the Sunday early voting day two days before Election Day, a date known as “Souls to the Polls” where congregants coming from a religious service are organized to go to an early voting site to vote.
The new bill “creates an additional option for discretionary early voting days to allow use of the 16th day before an election if the supervisor does not use the 2nd day before an election,” according to the Senate bill analysis.
That Senate language “allows the supervisors to pull the rug out from under Black communities with respect to Souls to the Polls,” Driskell said on Monday. “It’s an important institution and it helps ensure the Black community has a voice in its elected government.”
The new elections bill passed on a party line vote in the Florida Senate last week and now moves to the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee before reaching the floor. A House version of the legislation has yet to be filed.
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