Florida lawmakers have passed a wide range of voting restrictions on groups that register voters, which voting rights experts say will make it more difficult for people of color in the state to register and participate in future elections.
The 96-page elections bill, SB 7050, now awaiting Governor Ron DeSantis’ signature, includes a provision allowing DeSantis to run for the Republican presidential nomination while still retaining his position as governor.
While attention has been focused on this provision, several other changes to state law included in the bill could have a long-lasting impact on voter registration groups’ operations.
The proposed change shifts responsibility to individual Floridians to demonstrate their eligibility to cast ballots after arresting 20 convicted felons last year for allegedly voting illegally in the 2020 election.
Additionally, the bill focuses on third-party voter registration groups by shortening the time to turn in registration forms, imposing daily late fees for each tardy application, and making it illegal for certain people to handle voter registration applications.
Groups could be fined up to $250,000 for violations each calendar year. These changes have been described as necessary to guard against fraud and identity theft by those who collect voters’ personal information during registration.
However, opponents of the bill argue that it will disproportionately affect people of color and make it harder for them to vote.
“This bill does not and will not hinder anyone’s right to vote nor would I ever subscribe my name to something that could ever remotely be concluded to be voter suppression,” Burgess said. “There is nothing in this bill that makes it harder for a lawfully registered voter to cast their ballot.”
“If anything, we are making it harder for bad actors to do bad things,” he added.
According to voting expert and University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith, the newly passed restrictions may have a biased effect on non-White Floridians. His research indicates that approximately one out of every ten Black and Latino voters in Florida registered to vote through a third-party group in 2021.
Furthermore, Black and Latino voters were five times more likely to use these groups for voter registration than White residents of the state.
“It is likely that the new legislation will effectively stifle voter registration efforts by non-partisan groups in Florida,” Smith said in an email. “The penalties have become too high, the cost too great, for groups on the ground doing the hard work of registering the thousands of Floridians eligible to vote in the state.”