New Voting Laws in Florida and 13 Other States May Affect 5 Million Eligible Voters, Study Says

New voting laws passed in 14 states -- states that control 171 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a presidential election -- could make voting "significantly harder" for more than 5 million people who are actually eligible to vote, according to a new study.

As many as 1 million of those people could be Florida citizens, due to the implementation of just one law.

Research from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law says it's too early to tell exactly what type of impact the various states' new laws will have but echoes the sentiment that was raised often in opposition to those laws when they were being considered.

"These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as voters with disabilities," the study says. "This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election."

The report highlights five types of voting laws enacted across the 14 states in question -- photo ID laws, proof of citizenship laws, voter registration limits, a reduction of early and absentee voting days, and tougher rules for restoring voting rights.

Only Florida and Tennessee enacted laws that spanned three of those categories.

Florida now has tighter restrictions on voter registration drives, has reduced early-voting periods, and has reversed a prior executive action to make it easier for felons to restore their rights.

As you may recall, while the Florida Legislature was attempting to pass the restrictions on voter-registration drives -- which passed almost exactly along party lines -- supporters of the bill weren't ashamed to admit they were trying to make voting harder.

"But I have to tell you, I don't have a problem making it harder," Republican State Sen. Mike Bennett is quoted in the study as saying. "I want people in Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who walks 200 miles across the desert. This should not be easy."

Republican State Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff was also quoted as saying, "Democracy should not be a convenience."

When it comes to the age-old belief that many voting laws discourage minorities, this study actually attempts to provide some evidence.

Florida has eliminated early voting on the last Sunday before Election Day.

According to the study, African-American voters -- and to a lesser extent, Hispanic voters -- vote on Sundays at a proportionately larger rate than white voters.

Of all the early voting days before the 2008 general election, 13.4 percent of the early voters in Florida were African-Americans, and 11.6 were Hispanic.

On the last Sunday before Election Day, African-Americans contributed 33.2 percent of the Florida votes, and 23.6 percent were Hispanic.

Then there's Gov. Rick Scott's order to change the state's clemency rules, which the study doesn't appear to be pleased about:

Governor Scott changed Florida's clemency rules, and the change denies the right to vote to hundreds of thousands, maybe as many as a million, Florida citizens. These changes make Florida the most punitive state in the country when it comes to disenfranchising people with criminal convictions in their past.

The Florida Constitution denies the right to vote for life to anyone with a felony conviction, unless he is granted clemency by the governor. It essentially gives the governor, an elected official, the power to decide who will (or will not) be allowed to vote in the next election.

The study points out that Scott's changes are more restrictive than that of former governors Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush and calls the law "the most restrictive in the country."

To see the report in its entirety -- which includes concise explanations of all the voting laws passed among the states -- click here.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley