ORLANDO – Standing inside his mobile voter registration unit, Carl Guerrina answered the questions of people who showed up at the Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church parking lot in order to register to vote.
Several of them were surprised – and disappointed – when Guerrina told them what they needed to get registered or to get a driver’s license.
“You need a birth certificate, or you have to have your Social Security card or a W2 form,” said Guerrina, an examiner with the Florida Department of Motor Services’ Florida Licensing on Wheels mobile bus. It travels around the state providing a variety of services, including allowing people to register to vote or to obtain a driver’s license or identification card.
Besides the documentation needed, Guerrina had some more news to inform the people who showed up.
“There is a $25 fee to change your address,” he said, “and it’s $48 for the renewal of your license.”
That sent several people back to the door, and out into the parking lot, since they had no idea it cost that much.
And yet Guerrina added that for most people, the big issue wasn’t even the fee.
“Usually that’s the least of people’s worries,” he said. “Until they lose their license or need to renew it, they don’t know they need to gather their documents.”
Why so many cumbersome requirements? Guerrina said it’s all part of the federal governments’ efforts to respond to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City and Washington, and to make it harder for people who are in this country illegally to obtain a fake identification.
“It’s really geared to cracking down on the security of our nation, to ensure people are here legally and are who they say they are,” he said, adding that until now, it was simply too easy for someone to get a driver’s license and then use it as their main form of identification.
“We have used a driver’s license,” he said, “as an identity bank.”
The mobile voter registration bus was at the church today to take part in a Voter Registration drive sponsored by state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, who said she was concerned about the decision by the Florida Legislature, which is solidly controlled by Republicans, to limit early voting registration to just one week.
The election law bill, signed by Gov. Rick Scott last May, not only decreased the number of early voting days, but also forced voters to cast provisional ballots if they move between counties and fail to change their address before Election Day.
Thompson said the measure appeared aimed at making it harder for low income voters and minorities to get to the polls.
“I did not vote for the bill to make it more difficult to vote,” she said. “I’m working with people in the community to say, ‘Let’s not make it difficult to vote.’ We don’t want there to be any obstacles. “
But until the new law either gets repealed or tossed out by the courts, Thompson said they’re stuck with it, which is why she sponsored the Voter Registration drive in South Orlando.
“We have to work around the law,” she said.
Thompson said she also plans to make a major push to get more people registered to vote — and then to the polls next year, when Florida is expected to be a crucial battleground state in the presidential race. Florida voted for the winning candidate in the last four presidential elections: Republican George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and Democrats Bill Clinton in 1996 and Barack Obama in 2008, making this one of the nation’s prime swing states.
As Thompson noted, every vote will count.
“Let’s make a plan to get the word out, to vote,” she said.
Around noon, representatives from the office of Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles set up a table in the church hall to provide information about early voting and absentee ballots. Margaret Helfin, who worked the table for the Supervisor of Elections office, noted that Floridians have until Jan. 3 to register to vote in the Jan. 31 Florida Republican presidential primary, or to change their party registration. There will be no Democratic presidential primary, since no other Democrats are challenging President Obama’s re-nomination as the party’s presidential candidate.
“I’m here to register people for new registrations,” Heflin said. “That deadline is for new registrations or party changes.”
Several people showed up to register within the first hour, she added, and many of them had specific questions for her office.
“They believe that they need a card in order to vote, which they don’t need,” she said. “And they are checking about address changes and checking on their voting places.”
For a complete list of voting places, she said, they can log on to www.orangecountyvotes.com.
Outside, Guerrina assisted people at his mobile unit.
“This is one of several mobile units strategically placed around Florida,” he said. But he added that a lot of people simply are not aware of all the rules and regulations that they need to comply with.
“We’ve been fielding a lot of questions,” he said.
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