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Voter registration groups in Tallahassee will stop collecting forms

This story was originally published by WSFU.

Some voter registration groups in Tallahassee plan to stop delivering completed forms to elections offices to avoid the possibility of facing higher fines under a new state law.

"We are going to move to online registrations," said Trish Neely, president of the Tallahassee League of Women Voters. "We’re going to start making use of laptops, iPhones to help people be able to register themselves.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed into law places several new restrictions on voter registration groups, which are typically voting rights groups, churches and social clubs. Republicans in the legislature passed the measure, SB 7050, along party lines this spring. The new law takes effect on July 1.

It shortens the amount of time voter registration groups have to deliver completed forms to local elections offices, increases late fees and requires those organizations to provide voters they register with a receipt.

"For many of the smaller voter registration organizations, I think they're going to drop out," said Neely, who coordinates with other voter registration groups as part of her work with the League. "That means it's going to fall to the League to provide that service to everybody."

Neely says she expects the League will need more volunteers and resources to register voters online. In rural areas, she says they may need hot spots to help people connect to the internet to register.

"There's a lot that we're going to have to work through, but we're going to work through it," she said. "Bring it on, baby. We're not stopping."

Voter registration groups will have 10 days instead of 14 to return completed registration forms to local elections offices.

For every late application, groups could face fines that are 50 times greater than they were previously.

"We will accrue significant fines if forms are not turned in to the right supervisor of elections in the county by a certain time frame," explained Kathy Winn, an active member and past president of the Tallahassee League of Women Voters.

Groups could face up to $2,500 for every late application returned before the voter registration deadline, instead of a one-time $50 fine. After that, fines become much higher. The maximum amount a single organization may accrue in fines each year is $250,000.

Immigration rights advocates have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the new restrictions because they would prohibit noncitizens from "handling" or "collecting" voter registration forms. Groups could face a $50,000-fine for each noncitizen volunteer who touches the forms. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee will hear arguments in the case on Wednesday morning.

Another local voter registration group that plans to drastically alter its operations under the new law is the Big Bend Voting Rights Project, which focuses on eligible voters with felony records.

"We're going to have to stop taking the voter registration applications," said Barry Munroe, a volunteer with the group. “We will leave the form with the prospective voter."

The organization typically reaches "hard-to-find" potential voters by going door to door and setting up tables at community events.

When the new law takes effect, the group will help voters complete their registration forms and provide them with stamped envelopes addressed to their elections supervisor's office. The organization will continue to find potential voters who've had their rights restored and educate them about the process of registering, Munroe said.

"The onus will be on that individual prospective voter to turn in that application."