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Groups that register voters are feeling besieged by new state laws

ORLANDO, Fla. — Carolina Wassmer piloted a gray SUV around the city, dropping off canvassers from the civic engagement group Poder Latinx one by one. It was a muggy day, but the canvassers hopped out with their clipboards and pens, ready to engage in a longstanding American tradition: the voter registration drive.

Poder Latinx's canvassers were fanning out to help eligible voters in Latino neighborhoods join the rolls or update their registrations. But the work of such groups, which often focus on young voters and voters of color, is getting harder in Florida and around the nation.

Since the 2020 election, at least six states have passed legislation cracking down on voter registration drives. Many groups view the laws — enacted by Republicans in Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Montana and Tennessee — as an existential threat to their work, and several have shut down operations rather than risk financial penalties or prison time.

"It's been a nightmare in every way," said Davis Hammet of Loud Light in Kansas. His group halted voter registration efforts after a 2021 law imposed criminal penalties for impersonating an election official, something engagement organizations fear could be inadvertent. "If you're charged with a felony, you lose your right to vote. So you could lose your right to vote for registering voters," Hammet said.

In Florida, state legislators in 2022 upped the maximum fine a voter registration group could receive from $1,000 to $50,000. The next year, they boosted it again to $250,000. They also limited how and where organizations can return forms, and barred non-U.S. citizens and people with certain felonies from doing the work.

"These are rules that everybody needs to tighten up a little bit," said

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