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Judge Throws Out Parts Of New Florida Voting Law


And there's been another victory for opponents of new restrictive voting laws, this time in Florida. Yesterday a federal judge threw out parts of the Florida law, after calling them harsh and impractical. This law changed how voter registration works. Florida's Republican leaders say it was intended to reduce fraud, but groups that organized voting drives said it created huge obstacles. And this week, the Florida Times Union reported that since the law went into effect, new voter registration among Democrats fell drastically. Matt Dixon wrote that story. He's in Tampa for the convention, and he joins me now from the Convention Center. Matt, welcome to the program.

MATT DIXON: Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: Now why don't you explain the restrictions that this law created and why the groups that do voter registration were so concerned about it?

DIXON: Well, there were several, but the few that were pointed out most often by these registration groups was one that reduced the number of days that they have to turn the new voter applications from 10 to 48 hours. So basically, under the old law it was 10 days for a new voter application needed to be turned into an election official. And under the new law it went to 48 hours. And there are some penalties associated with late fees, and many of the groups said 48 hours was too narrow of a time frame, and they were afraid that they were going to have to pay some fairly hefty fines. So a lot of them after this legislation took effect July 1, 2011, just kind of got out of the registration game altogether.

BLOCK: Got out of the game. And you looked at the effect of that. You saw a huge drop in registration numbers for Democrats. In a 13-month period ending the August before the 2004 and the 2008 elections, you said there were an average of more than 200,000 new Democratic voters added to the roles. What about in the same period leading up to 2012?

DIXON: It was roughly 11,000. So it was a pretty steep drop off. I think it's important to note that it might not be all tied to these new restrictions. Certainly I think it's more than noteworthy that this drop off occurred after the new legislation took place and these groups stopped holding registration drives. But, as the Florida Department of State would be quick to point out, there are you know, other factors involved with registration numbers and certainly other ways to register. So the direct A-to-B link is, while important to point out, there are other mitigating factors.

BLOCK: It is really surprising Matt when you look at the numbers because while the number of registered Democrats is going way, way down, that's not the case for the number of registered Republicans. It continues to go up. So why would that be?

DIXON: The people who watch this closest and the folks who run these registration drives haven't really been able to account for the increase in Republican registrants. It might just be sort of the ebb and flow of how this process works. And the way they, at least the working theory they have for the drop off in Democrats or the steep decline, is that organizations that organize registration drives often go to areas where they deem it more difficult to register, places like low income communities, college campuses. And they say that perhaps people in those areas just didn't register once some of these organizations ceased their efforts.

BLOCK: Does this ruling from the judge this week mean that these voter registration groups can pick right back up?

DIXON: It just means that there's no threat going into November that these restrictions would be re-implemented. Since May 30, I believe, these groups have restarted their reorganization effort, that at that time the federal judge out of Tallahassee had temporarily said, these things can't be enforced and then earlier this week he said, you know, I'm permanently tossing them. So basically it's an indication that there's no threat of them coming back before November, and these groups can continue to do their registration efforts.

BLOCK: Matt Dixon is statehouse reporter for the Florida Times-Union. He's in Tampa for the Republican National Convention. Matt, thank you so much.

DIXON: Thank you.


BLOCK: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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