Archives for the month of: August, 2012

Matt Dixon of the Florida Times Union, who I think is a fine journalist, had a piece the other day with the headline: Democratic registration all but dries up since new Florida laws.

The column has been picked up several by several outlets, including the New York Times and Rachel Maddow’s Blog, and it has sparked lively discussions in such outlets as Weasel Zippers, Hullabaloo, and Addicting Info.

But Dixon’s figures, which I discussed earlier today here, are wildly off the mark and completely misleading.

Yes, “new” voter registrations are down in Florida, but nowhere near are they as dire as Dixon’s column suggests.

My collaborator Michael Herron at Dartmouth and I have just crunched the numbers, using data from the Florida Department of State voter files created on April 1, 2012 and April 1, 2008.

According to the state’s official records, more than 155k voters registered as Democrats in 2011.  Slightly less than 138k voters registered as Republicans in 2011.

Not surprisingly, given House Bill 1355’s draconian restrictions placed on third party voter registration organizations (3PVROs), which went into effect on July 1, 2011 and frustrated the ability of groups like the League of Women Voters to sign up new voters, registration figures for both parties were down in 2011 compared to 2007 (28.1% fewer Floridians registered as Democrats in 2011 compared to 2007, and 15.5% fewer Floridians registered as Republicans in 2011 compared to 2007).

But these dampened voter registration figures are nowhere near those published in Dixon’s column.

The bottom line: More than 155 thousand voters registered as Democrats and more than 138 thousand voters registered as Republicans in Florida in 2011.  The numbers are down, but that hardly looks like “drying up” to me.

Florida’s controversial election law, HB 1355, which has restricted early voting, made the casting of provisional ballots more likely, and cracked down on third party voter registration organization (3PVRO) efforts to register eligible Florida citizens, is still making news.

Yesterday, Judge Robert Hinkle, a federal judge in Tallahassee who is presiding over the legal action brought forth by the League of Women Voters and the other plaintiffs challenging the constraints and penalties placed on 3PVROs, took a more definitive step in deep-sixing several provisions of Governor Scott’s signature voter-suppression law, ruling that he intends to issue a permanent injunction as soon as the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismisses the state’s appeal of his preliminary injunction that he issued back on May 31, 2012.

Anecdotal evidence from groups sitting on the sidelines in Florida suggests that the law has indeed dampened voter registration across the state.

But how should we measure such a decrease, if indeed there has been one?

Florida Times-Union reporter, Matt Dixon, tried to measure the impact of the law in a story he wrote earlier this week that has gotten a lot of press, including a reprint of his findings in the New York Times and on Rachel Maddow’s Blog.  The headline of his article screams, “Democratic registration all but dries up since new Florida laws.”

But let’s take a closer look at Dixon’s methodology.

According to Dixon’s analysis, between July 1, 2011 and August 1, 2012, the number of registered Democrats statewide increased by only 11,365, compared to increases in Democratic registrations over the 13 months that preceded the 2004 and 2008 elections, which he claims increased an average of 209,425 voters.

Dixon also provides similar numbers of new registrations for Republicans, as show in this chart produced on Maddow’s Blog:

Chart: Florida’s voter-registration collapse

Although voter registration numbers are indeed down in Florida compared with other years, there are serious problems with Dixon’s analysis.

First, it does not measure NEW voters who are registered over the three 13-month periods.  Rather, his analysis looks at the differences in aggregate registration numbers for the two parties, which does not hold constant any increases, or (in fact) decreases in the overall number of registered voters in Florida.  Furthermore, statewide population had increased prior to the two previous elections, but recently has remained flat, decreasing the overall pool of potential new registrants of either party.

Second, voter registration is a daily, ongoing occurrence, and total number of registered Democrats and Republicans Dixon compares over the three spans does capture the possible impact of HB 1355, which went into effect on July 1, 2011. Indeed, his 13-month time-frame includes two months (June & July 2012) when 3PRVROs in Florida were once again registering voters after Judge Hinkle’s preliminary injunction on May 31, 2012.

A much better way to measure the effects of HB 1355 on voter registration numbers in Florida is to do what Professor Michael Herron and I have done in this paper.

I don’t have time to summarize our results, but perhaps these figures might suffice for now:
As we write on page 19 in our paper,
I’ll certainly have more on this later…

Professor Michael Herron (Dartmouth College) and I have posted a draft of our American Political Science Association annual conference paper, “House Bill 1355 and Voter Registration in Florida,” here.

Here’s the Abstract:

New state laws governing voter registration went into effect in Florida on July 1, 2011. Among the legal changes
promulgated as a consequence of a piece of Florida state legislation known as House Bill 1355 were new registration
requirements for third-party groups like the League of Women Voters and a new oath, warning of prison time and fines,
that voter registration agents had to sign before engaging in registration activities. Such changes raised the implicit
costs that eligible Florida citizens faced when registering to vote, and we show, consistent with this logic, that voter
registrations across Florida in late 2011 dropped precipitously compared to registrations in late 2007. This pattern is
evident among registrants in general, among registrants age 21 and younger, and among the number of individuals
who registered as Democrats as well as the number who registered as Republicans. Outside of House Bill 1355, we
know of no credible explanations for our findings about Florida registration drops in 2011. Our results thus show how
restrictions on the way that third-party organizations register voters can have tangible effects on actual registrations
and, given that registration prior to an election is a civic necessity in Florida, can affect electoral participation.

As was reported widely in the press, if not entirely accurately, last Thursday night a Washington, DC, panel of federal judges handed down a unanimous ruling that restrictions placed on early voting in Florida should continue not to be implemented in the five counties covered by Section 5 of the 1975 amendments to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Florida, said the panel, “has failed to satisfy its burden of proving that those changes will not have a retrogressive effect on minority voters.”

With respect to early voting, House Bill 1355–which was passed on party line votes by the Florida legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor Rick Scott in May 2011–is likely to have a differential impact on racial and ethnic minority voters in the 2012 general election.  In addition to my testimony before the US Senate on the topic, I’ve co-authored with Professor Michael Herron of Dartmouth College a soon-to-be published article in Election Law Journal that reveals the heavy reliance of early voting by minorities in the 2008 general election.  We found that in the 10 Florida counties that offered voting on the final Sunday of early voting in 2008, there was a surge in turnout among minority voters, especially African Americans.  That final Sunday of voting was eliminated under HB1355.

Since then, Florida voters have participated in two statewide primary elections in 2012 under a dual system of elections, which very well may violate state law.

Because the Secretary of State decided to enforce HB 1355 in 62 of the state’s 67 counties, despite the fact that the US Justice Department refused to preclear the enforcement of HB 1355 for Florida’s  five covered counties (Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe) under Section 5 of the VRA, those five continued to offer two weeks of early voting, (Monday through Saturday, and again, Monday through Saturday) for a total of 96 hours. (Incidentally, both prior to and after the enforcement of HB 1355, the elections supervisors of each of the five counties opted not to offer voting on either of the two Sundays, instead allotting the required eight-hours of weekend early voting all on the two Saturdays).

In contrast, the state’s other 62 counties were required by HB 1355 to cut back on the total number of days of early voting (from a maximum of 14 days, Monday through Sunday, and again, Monday through the final Sunday before the election; to a maximum of eight days, Saturday through Saturday).  Under the new early voting restrictions contained in HB 1355, which apparently eluded both Governor Scott as well the Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, Supervisors of Elections and could offer as few as 48 total hours (but no more than 96 hours over the truncated period).

As I noted back in March following Florida’s (Republican) Presidential Preference Primary (PPP), under Florida’s dual election system the percentage of early voters casting a ballot averaged across the five Section 5 counties was higher than the average use of early voting in the state’s other 62 counties, with the reduced days and hours of early voting.  As I wrote then, “a greater percentage of registered Republicans opted to vote early in-person in the five Section 5 counties than registered Republicans in neighboring counties. Some 11.8% of registered Republicans voted early in the five VRA Section 5 counties, compared to 9.3% of registered Republicans who voted in the other 62 counties.  More significantly, early in-person voting in the five counties with the extended voting window accounted for a greater percentage of the total turnout in the Presidential Preference Primary, on average, compared with turnout in the other 62 counties.  Nearly one in three votes cast in the GOP primary election in the five Section 5 counties were ballots cast early in-person by voters, compared to less than 22% of all ballots cast in the other 62 counties. Florida 2012 Presidential Preference Primary Section 5 VRA Counties Early Voters Graph

The same was true in the recent August 14 statewide primary with Republicans, Democrats, third party, and nonpartisan voters coming to the polls, as Dr. Herron and I found by merging the 67 county early voter files (which we downloaded three days after election day) with the state’s (yet to be official) turnout figures from the 67 counties.  Of the roughly 183k registered voters who turned out to vote in the five Section 5 counties (Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe), 18.96% came to the polls in person over the two-week early voting period (Monday-Saturday, Monday-Saturday). (As I mentioned above, each of the Section 5 counties still operate under the old law, and in addition to offering eight hours a day Monday through Friday, have opted to offer eight hours on the two Saturdays, for a total of 96 hours of early voting).

In contrast, of the nearly 2.16 million registered voters who turned out to vote in the state’s other 62 counties, which had a total of only eight days of early voting (Saturday through Saturday) and averaged considerably less than 96 total hours over the week, only 15.39% voted early, nearly 3.6 percentage points less than the five Section 5 counties.

This certainly seems to provide further evidence that the DC federal court last week was correct in striking down Governor Scott’s effort to curtail early voting.  Having a longer time-frame, with more available hours to cast an early ballot, only enhances a citizen’s likelihood of getting to the polls–including African Americans living in the protected counties (although we need to conduct further analysis to verify this possibility).  But of course, that’s why most Republican lawmakers supported HB1355–and Governor Scott quickly signed it into law–because they’re not terribly interested in trying to expand Florida’s electorate.

And early voting may very expand the electorate, notwithstanding the conventional wisdom (expressed even by those who opposed the cut-back of early voting, including Reed College Professor Paul Gronke, who served as an expert opposing the shortening of early voting in the DC litigation) that early voting may simple redistribute the timing of those citizens who already plan to cast a ballot vote.

Florida’s quasi-natural experiment, which Dr. Herron and I are investigating for a series of papers (including one we’re presenting next week at what promises to be a fantastic panel on the strategic mobilization of minorities at APSA, with Dr. Matt Barreto serving as our discussant), provides some leverage into the question of whether HB 1355 may have a depressing effect on overall turnout.

What we’re seeing in Florida (due to the state’s dual election system), is that having early voting spread over two weeks appears to give a wider range of voters more opportunities to turn out to vote.  When faced with fewer days and shortened hours of early voting, registered voters who have become habituated to vote early may decide to stay home.

This is particularly an important point when thinking about the five Florida counties covered by Section 5 of the VRA.  Average turnout is historically lower in these five counties than the statewide average. This, of course, is one of the reasons why the five counties were added in 1975 to those counties protected by the Justice Department under Section 5 VRA.

Average turnout of the five Section 5 counties compared to the state’s other 62 counties over the five statewide elections immediately prior to the implementation of HB 1355 (2008 PPP, 2008 primary, 2008 general election, 2010 primary, and 2010 general election) was 4.61 percentage points less, 40.81% to 45.42%.

And average turnout of the five Section 5 counties over the two statewide primary elections held in 2008 (the January PPP and the August primary) was only 30.13%, compared to an average of 35.79% in the state’s other 62 counties, an even greater difference of 5.66 percentage points.

But when comparing turnout numbers for the two primaries (the January PPP and the August primary) held in 2012 under Florida’s dual election system–with more early voting opportunities for registered voters living in the five section 5 counties compared to those residing in the other 62 counties–the turnout gap narrowed considerably, on average.  Turnout in the five Section 5 counties was 32.97%, compared to 36.20%, a difference of only 3.23 percentage points.

So, what are we to make of this? Admittedly, the turnout gap between the five Section 5 and the other 62 counties is not huge, but it is indicative that HB 1355 may be depressing turnout in those counties that must comply with the new, more restrictive law.  And, it is certainly arguable that since registered voters in the five Section 5 counties have historically relied more heavily on early voting in past elections, and if early voting days and hours are reduced in those counties if HB 1355 is eventually upheld, their comparatively lower turnout levels might take even more of a hit.

Unfortunately, we will not have a more definitive answer to this possibility until after the 2012 election.  But with what we’ve seen so far, it seems pretty clear that reducing the number of days and hours of early voting in Florida has had a negative effect on voter turnout.

Stay tuned. Much more from Dr. Herron and me on this later…

I just took a quick stroll around the web to check out the headlines announcing the DC federal district court’s decision yesterday on Florida’s 2011 early voting law.

Every one of the following headlines, except one, is misleading.

 

Federal court rejects Florida early voting changes

Rick Scott Strikes Out Again: Federal Court Blocks Florida Attack On Early Voting

Federal court says early voting cutback could hurt blacks

Federal Court Reinstates Early Voting Days In Parts Of Florida

Florida judge dumps early voting limits in some counties

Black Vote: Federal Court Reinstates 4 Early Voting Days in 5 Florida Counties

 

Not sure which one? Check out yesterday’s post where I try to explain Florida’s early voting law, before and after the passage of HB 1355.

 

Let me make this very clear:

Prior to the passage of HB 1355 in May 2011, early voting in FL started the 15th day before an election and ended the 2nd day before the election. So, the open period of early voting started on a Monday and ended two Sundays later.

The old law required the state’s 67 Supervisors of Elections to offer a total 96 hours of early voting over the 14-day period, and the SOEs were required to offer early voting for exactly 8 hours per day on weekdays and exactly 8 hours in the aggregate each weekend.  The SOEs had the discretion of spreading the 8 hours of weekend early voting on Saturday or Sunday, or limiting it to a single weekend day.

In the past, the SOEs in five counties in Florida covered by the Voting Rights Act decided not to offer early voting on Sundays, resulting in their 96 hours of early voting fall on just 12 days, as the DC court makes clear in its decision handed down yesterday.  But in the November 2008 election, for example, 10 SOEs offered voting on each of the 14 days, including the final Sunday before the election. Much more on that, here, here, and here.

HB 1355 shrinks the number of total days of EV to 8, and allows SOEs to reduce the total number of hours over the 8-day period. The early voting period under HB 1355 begins on the 10th day before an election and ends on the Saturday before election day. SOEs may offer no less than 6 hours of early voting each day and no more than 12 hours each day. The maximum number of hours of early voting under HB 1355, thus, is 96; the fewest is 48.

I’ve written about Florida’s system of early voting here, here, and here, and have a forthcoming coauthored article in Election Law Journal on the topic.

The major question remaining from the DC federal district court’s decision yesterday–which applied only to the five Florida counties covered under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act (Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe) is whether the state of Florida will continue to ignore state law requiring uniform election codes, and allow a dual election system.

A separate legal challenge in state administrative court may very well determine whether Florida citizens in the 5 Section 5 counties will continue to have two weeks to cast an early ballot, while those residing in thestate’s other 62 counties will be limited to just 8 days.

More on this later…

Here’s a link to the DC court’s decision, and the findings of fact.

But for now, here’s Gary Fineout’s AP story (which has some confused  information gleaned from the decision, as it focuses on Florida’s 5 counties covered by the Voting Rights Act: Florida’s early voting law prior to HB 1355 allowed up to 14 days of early voting (not only 12); HB 1355 reduced the number of days to 8).

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A federal court on Thursday gave five Florida counties four extra days of early voting in this fall’s elections.

The Republican-controlled Florida legislature last year cut the state’s number of early-voting days to 8 from 12. But the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the changes won’t happen in Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe counties, which are covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

That section requires election changes to be cleared by federal officials or federal judges. The states covered under Section 5 are mostly in the South and all have a history of discriminating against blacks, American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaskan Natives or Hispanics.

The three-judge panel said Thursday that the reduction in early voting days in those counties “would make it materially more difficult for some minority voters to cast a ballot.” But the 119-page ruling did say there were ways Florida could change its early voting practices that would not adversely impact minority voting rights.

A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the changes into law last year, called that part of the decision “encouraging.”

Here’s the press release from the Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs…

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, August 13, 2012
Justice Department to Monitor Elections in Florida and Wisconsin

The Justice Department announced today that it will monitor elections on Aug. 14, 2012, in the following jurisdictions to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other federal voting rights statutes: Collier, Hendry, Lee, Osceola and Polk Counties, Fla.; and the city of Milwaukee, Wis.

The Voting Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the election process on the basis of race, color or membership in a minority language group. In addition, the act requires certain covered jurisdictions to provide language assistance during the election process. Collier, Hendry, Lee, Osceola and Polk Counties, as well as the city of Milwaukee, are required to provide language assistance in Spanish.

Civil Rights Division personnel will monitor polling place activities in these jurisdictions. Civil Rights Division attorneys will coordinate federal activities and maintain contact with local election officials.

The DOJ’s press release is available here.

Here’s the ACLU’s press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 7, 2012
CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office, (786) 363-2737, media@aclufl.org

TAMPA – As a result of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Florida (ACLU) on behalf of Julie Towbin, a 17-year-old resident of Boca Raton, a federal judge today enjoined enforcement of Florida’s law putting a lower cap on political contributions for minors. In her 36-page opinion, United States District Judge Kathleen M. Williams of the United States District Court, Southern District of Florida, states that the law limits minors’ Constitutionally-protected right of Free Speech.

Florida law (statute 106.08(1)(b)(2)) limits donations made by minors to state and local candidates to $100 per candidate per election while adults may contribute up to $500 per candidate per election. Today’s preliminary injunction prevents the state from enforcing the unfair limit set on minors. The ACLU brought the lawsuit on behalf of Towbin in January 2012, asking the Court to declare the law unconstitutional.

“This isn’t just a victory for minors, it’s a victory for the First Amendment,” stated Towbin. “The law violated my constitutional right to engage in political speech and participate in our political process. Today’s ruling means my voice is no longer worth one-fifth of someone else’s.”

Towbin is a recent high school graduate who, in addition to earning money from a job as cashier in a restaurant, earned more than $7,000 as a Congressional House Page in 2011. She keeps her funds in a bank account in her name. She is registered to vote and plans to cast her first ballot in the November 2012 elections, by which point she will be 18.

In September 2011, Towbin wanted to attend a fundraising dinner for the Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee, of which she is a member. But she was told that purchasing a regular $150 ticket to the dinner may be a violation of the $100 limit on contributions by minors. She did not attend the dinner.

Because of her concerns about violating the law by making contributions to local candidates in 2012, Towbin wrote the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections, the Palm Beach County State Attorney, the State Attorney General and the Florida Elections Commission which is responsible for hearing potential violations and issuing penalties such as criminal referrals for prosecution and fines. Receiving no assurances that making contributions over $100 would not result in legal penalties, Towbin has not made any such campaign contributions. Because of the injunction, she may now do so without fear of civil or criminal penalties.

“This law put an unconstitutional limit on some citizens’ ability to engage in political activities based solely on their age,” stated Randall C. Marshall, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida. “Our laws should encourage everyone regardless of age — and especially young people — to participate in the political process. Instead, this law took away speech and political participation rights to young citizens.”

The Florida law enjoined today applies only to Florida state and local candidates. Federal election rules contain no similar restriction. Even though she is a minor, Towbin may contribute up to $2,500, the same amount allowed for adults, to candidates for federal office such as President or Congress.

“The Constitution does not allow the state to treat speech differently based on who is doing the speaking,” said James K. Green, cooperating attorney in the case. “If the state has a need to limit contributions to a set amount – in this case $500 – the amount needs to be the same for everyone without exception.”

The judge’s order granting preliminary injunction is available here: http://aclufl.org/pdfs/2012-08-07-ACLUTowbinOrderPI.pdf

The judge’s 36-page opinion is available here: http://aclufl.org/pdfs/2012-08-07-ACLUTowbinOpinion.pdf

A copy of the complaint filed by the ACLU of Florida on January 26, 2012 is available here: http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/2012-01-26-TwobinComplaint.pdf

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