Florida, which is expected to be a vital swing state once again in this year’s presidential election, is enrolling fewer new voters than it did four years ago as prominent civic organizations have suspended registration drives because of what they describe as onerous restrictions imposed last year by Republican state officials. The state’s new elections law — which requires groups that register voters to turn in completed forms within 48 hours or risk fines, among other things — has led the state’s League of Women Voters to halt its efforts this year. Rock the Vote, a national organization that encourages young people to vote, began an effort last week to register high school students around the nation — but not in Florida, over fears that teachers could face fines. And on college campuses, the once-ubiquitous folding tables piled high with voter registration forms are now a rarer sight.
Florida, which reminded the nation of the importance of every vote in the disputed presidential election in 2000 when it reported that George W. Bush had won by 537 votes, is now seeing a significant drop-off in new voter registrations. In the months since its new law took effect in July, 81,471 fewer Floridians have registered to vote than during the same period before the 2008 presidential election, according to an analysis of registration data by The New York Times. All told, there are 11.3 million voters registered in the state.
It is difficult to say just how much of the decrease is due to the restrictions in the law, and how much to demographic changes, a lack of enthusiasm about politics or other circumstances, including the fact that there was no competitive Democratic presidential primary this year. But new registrations dropped sharply in some areas where the voting-age population has been growing, the analysis found, including Miami-Dade County, where they fell by 39 percent, and Orange County, where they fell by a little more than a fifth. Some local elections officials said that the lack of registration drives by outside groups has been a factor in the decline.