JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Conventional political wisdom has it that Democrats are great at registering new voters and Republicans are just as good at getting their already-registered base to come out and vote.
That adage will be put to the test in Florida this year thanks to some new voter registration laws that some argue have made it more difficult to add new voters to the rolls. In the last presidential election, more than 61 percent (763,000) of the 1.2 million 18- to 29-year-old voters who cast ballots went for President Obama over John McCain (37 percent, 462,700), according to figures provided by the civic education and research organization CIRCLE.
Kayla Westbrook, chairwoman of the FSU College Republicans, hopes to change that before Tuesday’s (January 31) pivotal Republican primary . “We’ve talked about the new voting laws because we have a lot of freshmen coming in and they want to be registered in Tallahassee so they can be a part of local Republican groups,” Westbrook said.
Westbrook is confident that the changes in voter registration laws will not have an impact on her efforts. “In my personal experience, it isn’t very difficult to [register],” she said. “My roommate was a Democrat until a few weeks ago and she wanted to vote in the Republican primary for Ron Paul. So on January 3 I made sure to get her down there to register and it just wasn’t that difficult.”
The controversial rules in the state governing how third-party civic organizations can register new voters have spawned a number of lawsuits over claims from groups such as Rock the Vote that their mandates are “confusing” and that they breach the 1993 Voter Registration Act, a federal law designed to encourage community-based voter-registration activity.
They argue that the laws impact groups such as theirs by scaring off potential volunteers with threats of unspecified civil legal action and fines of $50 to $1,000 if the registration forms are not turned in within 48 hours. Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters are among several Florida groups that have filed suit to overturn the law, claiming that it seeks to disenfranchise young and minority voters, among other voting blocs.
But Westbrook hopes the rules will, as intended, root out voter fraud in a state that has proved pivotal in the past three presidential election cycles.
“I think that this is doing a good job to try and help with the voter fraud, but you can’t get rid of all of it,” she said. “I think the people that are doing the voter registration drives don’t need to fear being penalized because they have 48 hours to do it. We will have voter registration drives and whoever it is who is registered with the state will just turn them in the next day.”
With CIRCLE reporting that the Florida youth population has grown by more than 270,000 since the 2008 election, that means there are lots of new potential voters out there for both parties to tap into.
“I certainly hope we can get more registered Republicans this year and close that gap,” Westbrook said of her party’s typical lag in signing up new voters compared to Democrats. “We’re definitely taking the right steps to do that.”
MTV is on the scene in Florida! Check back for up-to-the-minute coverage of the primaries and stick with PowerOf12.org throughout the 2012 presidential election season.