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Florida Teacher Could Be Fined Thousands for Registering Students to Vote

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NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. (CBS Tampa) — A Florida teacher could face thousands of dollars in fines for registering students to vote.

Recent changes in Florida election laws made aspects of a voter preregistration drive hosted by New Smyrna Beach High School civics teacher Jill Cicciarelli technically illegal.

Because of this incident, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) is getting involved, stating that Gov. Rick Scott should either repeal the law entirely, or amend it to be more inclusive and easier to navigate. Later today, Nelson will reportedly meet with Cicciarelli.

Yesterday, Nelson expressed his concerns over the law in a letter to the governor.

“After this incident with the teacher, can anyone actually say we aren’t taking a step backwards in Florida when it comes to protecting one of our most fundamental rights?” the letter, provided in full by WPLG-TV, rhetorically asks. “While I’m told it’s unlikely she’ll receive more than a warning in this case, the matter is still illustrative (of the law’s foibles).”

The law is designed to curb voter fraud, but critics feel it instead adds an unnecessary layer of difficulty to the voting process for groups such as young or new voters, senior citizens, and minorities.

According to this new law, Cicciarelli was required to register herself with the state if she wished to sign up new voters in a third party capacity at the school. She would have also had to submit the voter applications within 48 hours of receiving them.

As Cicciarelli was an unauthorized party in the eyes of the new law, and since she waited too long to hand in the applications, she could now be forced to pay thousands of dollars to the state.

“I don’t think (she) even knew she had run afoul of the law until she was notified,” Nancy Wait, director of community information services for Volusia County Schools, told CBS Tampa. “Registering voters isn’t our primary role (at the high school), so it’s not necessarily something the teachers would automatically know.”

Wait added that the law was new for the 2011-2012 school year.

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the American Civil Liberties Union is getting involved as well by attempting to keep the law from being implemented.

The paper also reported that Cicciarelli was on a maternity leave when the legislature officially adopted the new law.

In the future, the school will opt to go through other channels, to make the process of voter registration for new and interested voters as easy as possible.

“The elections office works closely with the high school, and they do offer to come in and handle (voter registration),” Wait noted. “I think we’re going to take that route from now on.”

Cicciarelli did not wish to comment on the situation.

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