Given Florida's recent history of voting problems, the Legislature is right to support laws requiring more accountability in the election process and punishing those engaging in fraud. But lawmakers overreached with a new measure that unfairly penalizes civic organizations whose main mission is to register people to vote -- a cornerstone of democracy.

The law, which took effect Jan. 1, imposes fines ranging from $250 to $5,000 against third-party voter registration groups for each application that's not quickly turned in to state and local election offices or submitted at all. The law doesn't even allow exceptions in the event of a hurricane or office fire.

What's more troubling is the discriminatory nature of the law: Political parties are exempt. These organizations, which have agendas, should be held to the same standard as other groups participating in voter registration. ...

And the ramifications could be devastating to some groups. For instance, if the Florida League of Women Voters lost 16 registration forms because of simple human error, the fines would eat up its $80,000 budget. These financial concerns have prompted the league to suspend its nearly 70-year tradition of voter registration drives. The league is challenging the law in federal court.

Surely the Legislature did not intend to cripple or deter any honest organization that helps people vote.

As the text of the law states, groups that collect these forms have a fiduciary duty to applicants. But lawmakers should fine-tune the law next year so honest mistakes don't prevent reputable organizations from performing a public service.

-- The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune

This Week's Circulars