Registering People to Vote: It's a Crime

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 1 2011 11:21 AM

Registering People to Vote: It's a Crime

Ari Berman does great work running down the laws and secretary of state fiats that have started rolling back voting rights in the states. Felons who had their voting rights restored: Purged. (After 2000, when a botched purge probably got rid of enough Florida voters to hand Al Gore the presidency, we take notice when some five-digit number of voters are removed from the roles.) Early voting hours and days radically reduced. The weirdest law here is the catchall Florida law that Rick Scott signed, which includes a provision inspired by the confirmed 2004 and 2008 cases of crooked ACORN volunteers handing in forms with bogus names and signatures on them. Hey, that's a problem. How do you prevent quota systems in voter registration organizations from producing a few hundred fake names that have to be rooted out?

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Like this:

A third-party voter registration organization that collects voter registration applications serves as a fiduciary to the applicant, ensuring that any voter registration application entrusted to the organization, irrespective of party affiliation, race, ethnicity, or gender, shall be promptly delivered to the division or the supervisor of elections within 48 hours after the applicant completes it or the next business day if the appropriate office is closed for that 48-hour period. If a voter registration application collected by any third-party voter registration organization is not promptly delivered to the division or supervisor of elections, the third-party voter registration organization is liable for the following fines:    
1. A fine in the amount of $50 for each application received by the division or the supervisor of elections more than 48 hours [ed -- original proposal was for 10 days!] after the applicant delivered the completed voter registration application to the third-party voter registration organization or any person, entity, or agent acting on its behalf or the next business day, if the office is closed. A fine in the amount of $250 for each application received if the third-party voter registration organization or person, entity, or agency acting on its behalf acted willfully.
2. A fine in the amount of $100 for each application collected by a third-party voter registration organization or any person, entity, or agent acting on its behalf, before book closing for any given election for federal or state office and received by the division or the supervisor of elections after the book-closing book closing deadline for such election. A fine in the amount of $500 for each application received if the third-party registration organization or person, entity, or agency acting on its behalf acted willfully.
3. A fine in the amount of $500 for each application collected by a third-party voter registration organization or any person, entity, or agent acting on its behalf, which is not submitted to the division or supervisor of elections. A fine in the amount of $1,000 for any application not submitted if the third-party voter registration organization or person, entity, or agency acting on its behalf acted willfully.
The aggregate fine pursuant to this subsection which may be assessed against a third-party voter registration organization, including affiliate organizations, for violations committed in a calendar year is $1,000.
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A $500 fine if a form is completed but not turned in, and a $250 fine if the form is not turned in immediately. This is nuts. Voter registration is a race to the finish line, and there's no incentive to hang on to the form. When ACORN was getting burned, one reason the group gave was that it was legally required to turn in everything it got. A smart law written to prevent time-wasting fraud might change that. Nope: The Florida law keeps the mandate, which will punish both the group and the state for time-wasting bogus signatures, while piling fines on the groups that collect the forms.

Berman reports that the League of Women Voters has scrapped its voter registration program to avoid these punishments. That's the impact of a law written to prevent some time-wasting bogus signatures from a group that no longer exists.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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