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Youth vote 2012: Florida case study

We’ve been running Alexander Heffner’s tour of America’s college campuses in the weeks running up to the election. By and large he’s found much less enthusiasm than he witnessed in 2008. According to the Pew Research Center, youth registration is at a 16 year low.

And, plenty of the youth vote is unfamiliar with voting rules — much less with the changes that are have been put in place by many states this year. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement found in its election-year study that over 40 percent of young Americans were unsure about voter laws.

While reporting on the changes to Florida’s voting process, Rick Karr talked with  Anna Eskamani, a volunteer for the College Democrats at University of Central Orlando, about the mood on campus as the election approaches, and about how H.B. 1355, a new FL election law that passed in 2011, affected her work.

Eskamani finished undergrad the University last year and is now getting a double Masters in public administration and nonprofit management. Anna is also the Florida representative for Rock the Vote. UCF is the second-largest university in the country with 58,000 students. It sits in the heart of the I-4 corridor in central Florida – the swing part of a swing state.

H.B. 1355 contained strict new requirements for voter registration which its sponsors said would protect the forms and allow elections officials to track down problems. But Eskamani said they dampened the ability to recruit volunteers and register students to vote at UCF. What had been a fairly informal process turned into what Anna calls an “intimidating” process: Volunteers had to register with the state, go through a training, and were at risk for fines up to $1000 if they even unknowingly made a mistake. Anna says the few volunteers they did find spent a couple of hours each day driving back and forth across Orlando to the Supervisor of Elections’ office to comply with the new rule that registration forms had to be handed in within 48 hours. The League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote suspended their voter registration work in Florida for almost a year and filed a lawsuit, and the bill’s strict registration provisions were tossed out by a federal court over the summer.

Another provision that still stands bars people who move to a different county from changing their address at the polls. Those voters will now have to file a provisional ballot that will be verified later. In the 2008 election, only about half the provisional ballots ended up being counted. Supporters of the bill say allowing voters to change their address at the poll is an invitation to fraud, since it’s impossible to verify an address change on Election Day. But detractors, like Anna, worry that it may disenfranchise students who move often, and who tend to vote Democratic.


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