Florida’s hanging chads and butterfly ballots in 2000 ignited the divisive battle that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court denying an election recount, effectively declaring that George W. Bush won the presidential election by 537 votes. Another potentially close election is ahead, and the nation’s largest swing state is again at the center of a partisan debate over voting rules — this time, a fight about the removal of non-citizens from Florida’s voter roll and how the state oversees groups who register voters. It is set against a national backdrop of a bitter fight between Democrats who say voting rights of students and minorities are endangered and Republicans who say that voter fraud is widespread enough to sway an election. While many other states have considered laws that would require that people show a photo ID before they can vote, Florida has taken a different tack. Republicans there wrote a law in 2011 that they said would eliminate voter registration fraud by more closely controlling third-party registration, early voting hours and voter address updates. “With the old law, some things weren’t illegal or designated as fraud,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican and funeral home owner who sponsored the bill.
Voting rights advocates were most concerned about these features of the new law: reducing from 10 days to 48 hours the time that third-party groups had to hand in voter registrations and cutting early voting days from 14 to eight, including eliminating the Sunday before Election Day. Those whose address has changed to another county since they registered, must cast a provisional ballot and confirm their new address within two days. Of the roughly 22 million Florida votes cast since 2000, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has received only 175 complaints of voting-related fraud, 11 of which led to convictions, according to data obtained by News21.