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Jeff Clemens proposes automatic voter registration bill in Florida

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Palm Beach County state Senator Jeff Clemens filed legislation this week (SB 72) that would automatically register Floridians to vote when they apply for or renew their driver’s license.

“The reason is pretty simple – nobody should have to jump through an extra hoop to exercise their constitutional rights,” says Clemens, who edged out Irv Slosberg in a fiercely combative primary in the Democratic-leaning Senate District 31 in August.

Clemens says this is either the third or fourth time he’s proposed such a bill, and he says that his fellow Republicans should embrace it.

“There’s been an initial skepticism, as if there’s some sort of Democratic plot,” he says. “As we’ve seen in other states, whatever ratio that the people are registering in that state, that’s the same ratio as we increase registration. We have to alleviate the fears that this is some sort of partisan plot.” If passed, Florida would join Oregon and California in passing such legislation.

Clemens was behind the 2015 legislation that will allow applicants with a driver’s license or state ID to submit voter registration applications online beginning next month. The bill utilizes the electronic signature on file with the motor vehicles department to process the applications, as long as the voter applicants’ names match their DMV records. If the information does not match, the system will populate the applicant’s information into a form that must be printed, signed, and delivered to the election official.

Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer thinks both bills are good public policy.

“Ultimately, we want everyone who is eligible to vote to be registered to vote, and everyone who is registered to exercise their right to vote,” he says. “The Motor Voter Act that allows citizens to register to vote while at DHSMV has already had a dramatic positive impact on voter registration. Senator Clemens’ bill, in conjunction with online voter registration which goes into effect January of 2017, could move us even closer to that goal. “

Clemens has also filed legislation this week (SJR 74) to provide the automatic restoration of ex-felons to be eligible to vote, a provision which on the surface has even less of a chance of passing through the GOP-led Legislature. An attempt to get such a measure on the 2016 ballot as a constitutional amendment came up well short, but activists say they’ll continue to work on gathering signatures to get the measure on the ballot in an upcoming statewide election.

“We’re talking about people who own businesses, who’ve gotten advanced degrees, who have families, who do community service work, they pay taxes, and yet have no say whatsoever in their government,” Clemens says, referring to statistics that indicate that of the nearly six million people nationwide shut out of voting they live in a state that does not grant automatic restoration, 1.5 million of them arena Florida.

And Clemens isn’t finished proposing more reforms to make it easier for Floridians to vote. He says he’ll soon introduce a measure to allow for same-day voter registration, which is or soon will be the law in 15 states, as well as the District of Columbia.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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