Changes to Florida Voting Laws 2 - Enforcement, Consequences, and Fines

An almost immediate consequence of Florida's new voter registration law became the focus of National attention just before the off-year election which took place in November 2011.

Dawn Quarles, a teacher of Advanced Placement classes in American government at Pace High School in Florida's panhandle located in Santa Rosa County near Pensacola became the first person to face a fine for violating the provision of the new law that requires all "filled-out forms" to be submitted within forty-eight hours as opposed to the ten days allowable before the new law went into effect. The provision specifically referred to the restriction relating to third-party voter registration drives. A fifty dollar fine per late registration entry can be assessed, up to a maximum of a one-thousand dollar penalty within a single year. Quarles was accused of submitting seventy-six filled out registration forms that were received after the forty-eight hour limit had expired.

The law has a zero tolerance policy, and missing the cutoff date due to mail service problems or any other reasons supposedly does not give the person or group (s) who send in the forms any relief from the penalties of the new law's consequences.

In a telephone interview, Quarles claimed ignorance of the law. Once she was contacted she appeared baffled by the situation. "That's ridiculous, that's crazy… I don't know about it, so how can I abide by it?" and went on to explain that forty-eight hours is not adequate time to get the forms to arrive at the county's elections supervisor's office. She also complained that the regulations for submitting the forms were strict enough before the new law was passed. She previously assisted in school-wide registration drives conducted by her students but in the year that the new law was approved, she circulated applications only to students that were members of her own classes due to what she labelled the already stringent regulations. She was quoted as saying "We have the worst voter turnout of any Western democracy and this is the reason why."

Quarles was cited for violations in the past, submitting filled-out forms after the ten-day limit had expired. In response to a case of one of citations she said that she unintentionally overlooked a few of the forms that were filled out, but left in a drawer of her desk over summer recess.  When questioned about the new complaint she jokingly stated "I'm a repeat offender."

It was the same Santa Rosa County supervisor that cited Quarles twice before in the past who again turned her in to Secretary of State Kurt Browning. She was surprised when she found out about the trouble she faced, as this time she knew that all forms she sent in were done so well within the ten-day limit that she believed was the deadline, and was as the law formerly required before being amended.

Overall, Quarles intentions appear to be honorable.  Speaking about the school's students she said" We have to get them registered… They're not going to drive themselves down to the elections office, but if they have that card, they will use it." She also later commented "I know it's my responsibility. I feel a little bit like the system is working against me when I'm just trying to get kids registered to vote."

Later that week, while her class was in session, Quarles received a phone call from assistant attorney general, Blaine Winship. He told her that they'd "like to negotiate a settlement out of court." Surprised by his statement Quarles replied. "I didn't know we were going to court." To that point she hadn't received any written notification from the state that would advise her that any legal action was in the works.  

Browning proposed that Quarles should be held responsible for her current alleged unawareness of the law and indeed be fined because she had sufficient knowledge of election law for her to register with his office as a third-party organizer, currently and in the past.  He also made it clear that she was aware of her prior violations although she was never reprimanded for them and was firm in saying that she failed to register again that year as was mandatory by the new law.

Before the new law went into effect, other registration drive violations were not fast to be enforced by state officials, but in Quarles case the Secretary of State wrote a letter requesting Attorney General Pam Bondi pursue civil fines. Quarles did receive a copy of that letter in the mail. It is required that the Secretary of State report violations to the Attorney General for collection of any appropriate fines as the new law is written.

According to Quarles, "This is another attempt to squeeze money out of an already struggling constituency."

In addition to the Quarles case, Browning also advised The Department of State of a similar violation by Jill Cicciarelli, a New Smyrna Beach High School teacher. Cicciarelli was accused of filing 50 applications that were received after the forty-eight hour cut-off period had passed. According to Browning, Cicciarelli only received a warning because, unlike Quarles, she had no prior violations. However, he did emphasize that it was the "first and last warning."

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