GOP ready to rewrite elections lawby John Kennedy | April 20th, 2011
After three hours of debate late into Wednesday night, the House tentatively approved a massive elections bill pushed by ruling Republicans but fiercely opposed by Democrats.
The legislation (CS/HB 1355) would put tight restrictions on groups that register voters – making the League of Women Voters, unions, the NAACP and others submit lists of prospective new voters to elections supervisors within 48 hours, or face $1,000 fines.
“I’m not ready to talk about anyone particularly,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, the sponsor of the measure, refuting demands from Democrats to show where organizations have caused problems for elections supervisors.
“I’m just trying to build a better system,” he added.
A final House vote is expected Thursday.
The registration requirements, deadlines and even heavier financial penalties against so-called third-party registration organizations were approved by the GOP-led legislature in 2006.
But the measures were thrown out by a court, because they were considered overly punitive. The latest version modifies the penalties, and supporters think it will withstand any challenge.
In another controversial provision, the bill also would create new standards that critics warn could endanger ballots cast by voters away from their home counties – a move some see as designed to blunt the participation of Democratic-leaning college students in next year’s presidential contest.
Republican leaders beat back some 40 amendments pushed by Democrats aimed at allowing university facilities to be designated early voting sites, limiting the amount of money flowing to shadowy political committees, and even an attempt to move the presidential primary to the first week of March, away from the current, Jan. 31 date.
Democrats forced Republicans to cast recorded votes — not voice votes — on most of the amendments. The move is clearly designed by Democrats to cast Republicans as seeking to blunt voter-access to the ballot next year.
“I presented several common-sense amendments that would protect voting rights in our state,” Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, said after the floor action. “The Republican majority outright rejected these amendments, and in doing so, continue to open the gates for voter suppression.”