In 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott stirred controversy – and raised the the ire of voter advocacy groups – with legislation that made sweeping changes to the state’s voting policies. Those changes, which decreased early voting periods, complicated the work of third-party voter registration groups, and increased the number of voters who were required to cast provisional ballots (among other changes), were so unpopular that, last week, Scott signed HB 7013, a bill that rolls some of them back.
Views on HB 7013 are divided. While some hail the new legislation as a step forward after the unpopular 2011 bill, others see the move as a half-measure that may hinder Florida’s efforts to meaningfully address the impact of the 2011 bill. Politifact, in dissecting some of the details of the legislation, makes it clear that while many important electoral access issues have been addressed, the non-mandatory nature of many of the bill’s changes places its ultimate effectiveness in question. In one example, voting the Sunday before the election — key to greater turnout in African-American communities — is no longer banned, as it was in the 2011 legislation. However, it is not required that county elections officials implement Sunday voting access. The optional nature of the majority of the reforms means that while they have the potential of restoring previous election access levels, they also run the risk of being ignored in favor of the new status quo.
When the next elections roll around, will the legislation Gov. Scott signed this week have a net positive impact on enfranchisement and poll access? Or, will it fail to correct the restrictive course set by the 2011 bill? Either way, it’s clear that when Florida’s Governor takes action to change election law, people are paying attention, and we think that’s a good thing.