Florida laws erect barriers to voter participation

Much is being said about Florida’s controversial new voter registration laws, which make it more difficult for people to register and reduce the availability of early-voting opportunities. These new measures appear to be a step backward in protecting the right to vote for citizens of the Sunshine State.

Under the new laws, third-party groups who fail to file new registration forms with the supervisor of elections within 48 hours of collection face stiff fines. As a result, groups such as the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote have decided to suspend their registration drives in Florida for fear that compliance with the new laws is too difficult. These groups have a long history in Florida of getting the people involved in participating in the electoral process through registration drives.

Good government begins with the voter, and creating barriers to voter registration or access to the polls is contrary to our democratic ideals. The right to vote is sacred, and people have fought and died to protect it. I believe government should ensure the maximum number of people should be allowed to participate in the electoral process.

While serving as Florida’s governor, I issued an executive order during the presidential election to extend the hours of operation at our polls to ensure the maximum number of people could vote. Under the new laws, the opportunity to vote early will be restricted, making it more difficult for more people to vote.

Florida’s lawmakers cite voter fraud concerns as the reason for the new restriction on third-party voter registration drives. While I have seen no evidence of rampant voter fraud, it is no doubt a serious matter and can serve to reduce confidence in the electoral process. Those who commit such a crime should be prosecuted and punished. However, imposing stiff penalties on those who are trying to promote participation in the electoral process in good faith will most assuredly reduce confidence in the electoral process. In a state with approximately 18 million residents and approximately 11.2 million registered voters, Florida should be doing all it can to promote more voter participation, not creating barriers to it.

Charlie Crist served as governor of Florida from 2007-2011.