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Voter registration should not be unduly hindered

Published: Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 01:10

Voter apathy has always been a problem among young people, despite vigorous voter registration drives every election year. Florida's new election laws will do nothing to help the issue, as third-party registration groups may face the threat of fines.

New Smyrna Beach High School teacher Jill Cicciarelli, who heads the school's student government association, faces thousands of dollars in potential fines for helping students pre-register to vote, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal. New laws require third parties such as Cicciarelli to register with the state and submit voter applications within 48 hours, down from 10 days.

Political activists and voter registration groups, such as the League of Women Voters, have ceased efforts in Florida in response to the new threat of fines. The laws were intended to combat voter fraud, which is not a bad idea, but adding new hurdles to registration will only deter young voters from heading to the polls.

High school teachers and groups on campus should not have to worry about the consequences of encouraging civic involvement.

Adding to the complexity of the issue is the fact that the new election laws, passed in the spring, are not in effect in Hillsborough and four other counties. Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, "preclearance" by federal officials is required in these five counties before new election laws can be implemented.

The more controversial parts of the Florida laws, including the changes to voter registration drives, are still under consideration in Washington, D.C. The apparent illegality of having two sets of election laws for different Florida counties led to a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which was dismissed last week by a federal judge in Miami.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore argued there would have been grounds for adjudication only if "the record indicated either actual enforcement or an intent to enforce without preclearance" in those five counties.

On the other side of the debate, Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning has filed a complaint calling for the preclearance rule to be declared unconstitutional.

Until the issue is sorted out in Washington, it seems Hillsborough voter drives can continue unaffected by the stricter rules.

Election laws must balance on a fine line. On the one hand, voting can't be so easy as to encourage fraud, but on the other, laws shouldn't place too great a hurdle for voters, especially students who tend to be disinterested to begin with.

If the new guidelines for registration drives are discouraging groups from holding drives altogether, then perhaps the Florida Legislature should use this waiting time to find alternatives.

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