Elections rewrite taking shape in Senateby John Kennedy | May 4th, 2011
A rewrite of elections law in the nation’s largest presidential toss-up state edged closer to completion Wednesday, with the Senate moving closer to the House on a package derided by Democrats and vote-gathering organizations.
The Senate positioned the legislation (CS/HB 1355) by adding some of its early voting priorities to a measure that puts tight restrictions on so-called third party voter organizations — 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.
The Senate had earlier proposed shortening the time allowed for early voting. But Wednesday, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, came up with what he cast as a compromise that would maintain the current 96-hours of early voting allowed, but shorten the number of days available to vote before Election Day.
Gaetz’s provision — adopted by the Senate — would reduce the current two-week early voting period to 10 days, but extend the daily hours. The full measure still awaits a Senate vote — and must return to the House, which is likely to accept the changes.
County elections supervisors have questioned the change. Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher estimated the changes could cost county taxpayers $941,000, by forcing officials to open more early voting locations and pay poll-worker overtime costs.
The measure coming out of the Senate coincides with the House approach on allowing only voters who’ve moved within a county to cast regular ballots at their new precincts on Election Day. Voters who’ve relocated from another county, but haven’t changed their registrations, could cast only provisional ballots in their new counties.
Democrats argue the change will make it harder for Democratic-leaning college students to cast ballots. Some counties also tend to eliminate substantial numbers of provisional ballots because voters cannot submit proof that they’re eligible voters, opponents said.
Ruling Republicans, however, have argued that the changes are only designed to stamp out voter fraud and assure that only eligible voters cast ballots.