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As election season heats up, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida is defending Florida's controversial 2011 overhaul of state elections law.
State GOP lawmakers came up with the changes as a way to guard against voter fraud. But Democrats, the League of Women Voters and other groups say the law disenfranchises third-party organizations and makes it more difficult for Floridians to register to vote.
The League of Women Voters has suspended its campaign to register people to vote and is suing the state over the law -- which requires third-party voter registration organizations to turn in voter registration forms within 48 hours or face fines, among other things. A federal judge barred enforcement of the 48-hour deadline in a May 31, 2012, ruling, saying the provision was "harsh and impractical."
Before the judge ruled, Republican Party of Florida chairman Lenny Curry defended the changes aimed at third-party registration groups in an Orlando Sentinel column. His point: Groups are still actively registering people to vote. His evidence: "More than 250 groups, ranging across the entire political spectrum, have filed with the state and are registering voters right now."
That’s worth a fact-check, we thought.
Our first stop was the Florida Department of State, which keeps track of third-party voter registration organizations.
The data show more than 250 organizations signed up to register voters, 293 to be exact. And the groups cross political (and life) spectrums, from the Pinellas Democratic Party, and the South Florida Tea Party to groups called the American Baptists, American Multi-millionaires, American Film Stars and the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws.
But are all those groups active? Not exactly.
To date, 136 of the 293 organizations have signed up one or more voters. The rest haven’t registered anyone to vote, and in most cases, haven’t even requested voter registration forms.
The biggest groups registering voters are the Florida Democratic Party, the Republican Party of Florida, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and America First, an organization to protect the U.S. Constitution. Latino organizations such as the the National Council of La Raza/Democracia Mi Familia Vota Education Fund also registered thousands of voters.
Those six groups made up almost 90 percent of the submitted applications.
Chris Cate, spokesman for the Department of State, said all third-party groups registered with the state after the law took effect -- which implies they plan to sign up voters before the November general election.
"Just because the groups haven’t registered voters yet doesn’t mean they couldn’t go out and register voters this weekend," Cate said.
Curry didn’t return phone calls. But RPOF spokeswoman Kristen McDonald wrote in an email "whether or not each of the 250 groups is out registering voters every day is beside the point -- they all have the ability to do so at any time."
Steve Tauber, a professor of American government at the University of South Florida, argues the number of registered organizations proves nothing about the possible chilling effect of the new law.
Organizations will not know if they can process voting forms within 48 hours until they deal with a high volume of voters -- closer to the general election, Tauber said.
Lenny Curry argued that more than 250 groups are actively registering voters from across the political spectrum, and "are registering voters right now."
Curry underestimated the number of groups that signed up with the state to register voters and continue to file monthly paperwork to stay active. But his statement is still misleading.
Less than half of those groups have registered a single voter since the law took effect, and six groups have registered nearly 90 percent of all voters so far.
Furthermore, the statement’s intent was to illustrate the ease of complying with the law, a measure that won’t be clear until election season is in full swing.
We rate the statement Half True.
PolitiFact Florida is partnering with 10 News for the 2012 election season. See video fact-checks by clicking here.
Orlando Sentinel, Measure protects integrity of elections and democracy, May 9, 2012
Email interview with Kristen McDonald, Republican Party of Florida, May 30, 2012
Email and phone interview with Chris Cate, Florida Department of State, May 30, 2012
Florida Department of State third-party voter registration database accessed May 30, 2012
Florida Department of State voter registration forms received/provided database accessed May 30, 2012
Phone interview with Steve Tauber, University of South Florida associate professor, May 30, 2012
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