Florida House approves election package – again – sends back to Senateby Dara Kam | May 3rd, 2013
The secretary of state won’t be able to punish elections supervisors under a modified elections package approved by the Florida House and sent to the Senate for final passage.
The Senate is expected to finalize the measure, which requires supervisors instead to post online a report of their preparations three months prior to the election, in one of the last actions before the 2013 session ends later this afternoon.
The Senate had wanted to give the secretary of state, appointed by the governor, the authority to put the locally elected officials on probation and force them to pass a test before being able to be removed from “noncompliant status.”
But House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, sided with the supervisors, who objected that Detzner already has the authority to review the local officials’ preparedness, give them written directions and take them to court if he believes they aren’t complying with the law.
Before the session began, Gov. Rick Scott, Weatherford, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, pledged to do something to fix the long lines and up to eight-hour waits encountered by many voters last fall.
Under the plan expected to go to Scott for signature, supervisors can choose from between eight and 14 days of early voting and stay open from eight to 12 hours per day. The 2011 law, HB 1355, shrank early voting from 14 to 8 days. GOP insiders said the 2011 law was designed to cut back on Democratic turnout in the 2012 election, a reaction to Florida Democrats’ support for President Obama in 2008 that helped him into the White House.
This year’s proposal also gives supervisors more options for early voting sites, and would allow add civic centers, fairgrounds, courthouses and government-run senior centers to the city halls, public libraries and elections offices they can now use.
“Reform is never final…We should be ready always to come here and make adjustments if we can make things better,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, the sponsor of HB 1355.
Democrats applauded the effort but said it didn’t go far enough to reverse a 2011 elections package they blame for many of the problems.
Rep. Janet Cruz, who was the lead Democrat on the elections bill, called the effort “a very, very good big, big first step in solving the difficulties that our voters have faced.”
But, she added, “I want our citizens to know that we are not finished.”
Democrats contend that voters should still be allowed to change their addresses at the polls on election day. Current law, changed in 2011, requires voters who move outside of the county to cast provisional ballots – which have a greater likelihood of being tossed – if they don’t update their address before Election Day. Democrats contend that kept many college students from casting regular ballots in the fall.
The bill takes “solid steps” to “reform the deform that had happened” with HB 1355, incoming House Democratic Leader Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said. The bill isn’t “where we want to be but it’s better than where we are,” he said.
“Some of us feel like the bill hasn’t gone far enough. We want to go back to pre-1355,” Rouson said.