Fighting Back and Winning Against Restrictive Voter Registration Laws

On a mission to build political power for young people, Rock the Vote has worked to register and educate young people about the political process for more than two decades. We do this work because we believe in an engaged citizenry, one in which people are empowered to use their voice to create the social and political change they desire. So when Florida policymakers began in May 2011, to restrict third-party voter registration organizations from doing this critical work of youth engagement on the ground - we took a stand.

These restrictions meant that community-based voter registration organizations had to submit completed voter registration forms within 48 hours (cut from 10 days) and to comply with additional administrative requirements, including revised volunteer affidavits with risks of fines, jail-time, and other legal penalties for non-compliance. These provisions created such ambiguity for our young volunteers and students, as well as the teachers involved in our civic education programs, that we ceased all of our on-the-ground voter registration activities in Florida at the end of last year.

We didn't walk away quietly though. On December 15th 2011, Rock the Vote, along with the League of Women Voters of Florida and the Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, filed a lawsuit in the federal court in Tallahassee to challenge these restrictions and ask to halt their implementation. We argued that voter registration efforts should be encouraged and celebrated instead of being restricted and complicated.

We took this stand because we believe our country’s democracy is only strengthened by community-based voter registration efforts. And hundreds of Florida youth stood with us - by pledging to vote on Election Day and calling their elected officials. Together, we sent a strong message to Florida officials, and other states, that voting is a fundamental right and that we will fight back against barriers to voter registration. Some things are too important and too fundamental to our democracy.

On March 1st, our lawyers - from the Brennan Center for Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Florida, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, and Coffey Burlington - convened in a Tallahassee courtroom to make the case to U.S. Judge Robert Hinkle. While there was no immediate ruling from the bench, the judge understood the urgency of the situation and suggested that he would have a decision soon.

Finally on May 31st, Judge Hinkle issued his decision and granted a preliminary partial injunction on the Florida legislation, blocking enforcement of the most restrictive parts of the legislation, allowing Rock the Vote to resume our efforts to register voters on the ground in Florida. We celebrated this decision as a victory for Florida voters, and for our democracy.

With a green light to resume our volunteer-led voter registration efforts, Rock the Vote was thrilled to announce on June 6th, along with the League of Women Voters of Florida, that we're back in action in the state. There is a lot of time to make up for and a voter registration deadline for the State Primary coming up on July 16th. So, the pressure is on and the clock is ticking, but we are eager to get back to doing what we do best: talking to young voters about the importance of civic participation and getting them registered so they can participate in our country's democracy. We even overnighted Democracy Class toolkits to Florida teachers, in time for the last three days of school. Democracy Class is a new project that works with high school students in over 1,200 schools across the nation, introducing them to civic engagement via interactive, academically sound, and culturally savvy civics classes that inspire eligible high school students to register to vote.

As an organization that has a twenty-year history of engaging young voters, Rock the Vote has a stake in preserving clear, efficient, and effective avenues to voter registration for all Americans and will continue to fight for accessible registration and civic engagement opportunities for young people as the 2012 election approaches and beyond.

3 Comments

What steps do you take to ensure that those registered are citizens?

For on-the-ground voter registration efforts, Rock the Vote uses the National Mail Voter Registration Form - and before an applicant even fills out the form, they must confirm that he/she is a United States citizen (and whether he/she will be 18 years old on or before Election Day). For any person that cannot answer the citizenship question affirmatively, Rock the Vote staff and volunteers are trained to direct the person to NOT proceed. Similarly, for those wishing to complete the voter registration process online, the applicant must confirm his citizenship status before completing the voter registration form. Rock the Vote simply provides the voter registration opportunity; and we trust that people are both correctly and honestly completing the form.

What steps, if any, can be taken to address the absentee ballots not arriving on time for the deployed military members? As a result they could not vote. Reports of this happening are several.

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