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Politics / Issues

FL Secretary Of State: Automatic Voter Registration Requires A Serious Conversation

On the heels of the 2016 presidential election lawmakers are reviewing what went well while looking toward some changes.

Florida has had a history of bumpy elections. The state’s butterfly ballots and hanging chads of 2000 remain in infamy. And even as recently as 2012, Florida faced ridicule as its long lines threatened to disenfranchise voters and left final election results up in the air. But this year, Secretary of State Ken Detzner says Florida turned things around.

“In 2016, we showed the state, the nation and the world that Florida knows how to run elections,” Detzner says.

But that’s not to say the 2016 elections went off without a hitch. Voting rights activists wanted the governor to give people more time to sign up to vote after a hurricane threatened the state requiring an evacuation for some counties just days before the state’s voter registration deadline. When the governor said no, groups like the League of Women Voters took their argument to court. Cecile Scoon is the president of the Bay County League.

“We were very, very concerned with the governor’s statement that everyone had enough time to register when he was the very one who was protecting lives and asking people to leave. We felt since it came out of his mouth to tell people to leave their homes and leave their businesses and the different state offices where people could register were shut. It came from him. It should have come from him to allow people to register,” Scoon says.

A federal judge extended the state’s voter registration deadline to ensure no voters had been disenfranchised, but some activists say that wouldn’t have been necessary if voters could have gone online to get signed up. The state is currently working on an online voter registration system. It’s due to be completed in 2017. And during a presentation before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Division of Elections Director, Maria Matthews says the project is on track.

“We are on schedule, I’m happy to say. We did have a little big of a hiatus with our meetings, obviously trying to do the election. But we have resumed that and will be continuing full steam ahead,” Matthews says.

Meanwhile, some activists are pushing for what they say is another way to help--automatic voter registration. What that means is when somebody gets a drivers license, they’d automatically be registered to vote. Currently people are given the option, but the process isn’t automatic. Lakeworth Democratic Senator Jeff Clemens has filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would do just that. But State elections head, Ken Detzner says that’s a move that would require careful consideration.

“I would want to have a lot of conversation about the quality of the data, the quality of the processes and as I spoke a year and a half ago, the risk, the potential risk of fraud, duplication and quality data. This is a very precious commodity that we have, our voter registration database. I think we should make every effort to make it convenient for people to register and people to vote. That is a huge step that I think requires a great deal of conversation,” Detzner says.

It’s not the first time Detzner has dragged his feet when it comes to voter registration advances. He came under fire previously for insisting that an online voter registration system couldn’t be completed by 2017. Legislators dismissed Detzner's concerns, passing legislation in the 2015 session requiring the system be up and running within two years.

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