[UPDATE] Contentious Elections Bill Passes Florida House

By: Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
By: Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

[UPDATE] 5/2/2011 4:15pm --

A massive 155-page elections bill pending before the state Senate in Tallahassee would reverse many of the changes made after the 2000 election debacle that kept the election in doubt for 37 days.

Early voting would shrink to 8 days but last 12 hours a day. The 50,000 people who changed their address on election day 2010 would be out of luck and likely out of having their vote counted. They could only vote by provisional ballot. And people who register voters would have just 48 hours to turn in those registrations or face a fine.

Seegar Swanson came to the capitol from Santa Rosa County, where Democrats are outnumbered 60-40, to protest the changes. Seegar says he’ll stop registering voters if the legislation takes effect.

“If you’re registering voters at the county fair or something, you’ve only got 48 hours, that means everyday you have to run to the supervisor of elections office and turn in the ones you got the day before,” Seegar Swanson said.

Seegar isn’t alone in his concerns. Top-ranking democrats, including U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who is a GOP target in 2012, called the bill un-American.

“This a personal attack on the people of Florida,” Nelson said.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the bill’s author is the former Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

Reporter: Is there a perception here that, if nothing else, you’re trying to set this up for 2012?

“If there’s a perception that’s in the eyes of the beholder. I’m not trying to set anything up,” Sen. John Thrasher (R-Jacksonville) said. “I’m just trying to encourage people to get out and vote in 2012.”

Governor Rick Scott has said only that all people should vote. But he is expected to sign whatever he is sent.

But even with Scott’s expected signature, lawsuits challenging the changes are expected.

More than 85 hundred letters and emails have been sent to lawmakers protesting the elections legislation. Lawmakers had initially tried to cut early voting in half, but protests caused them to shorten the number of days but keep the number of early voting hours the same

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THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, April 22, 2011 --

A broad elections bill that supporters say would shield the voting process from fraud but opponents decry as a revival of legalized voting suppression passed the House on a party-line vote on April 21.

The 157-page, 4,392-line bill (HB 1355) cleared the House on a 79-37 vote. It still needs Senate approval.

The measure limits when voters can change their addresses at the polls; places new regulations on third-party registration groups; and creates a new panel to set Florida’s presidential preference primary date in hopes of defusing a showdown between state Republicans and the national party.

“This bill will restore credibility to Florida’s election process by ensuring an accountable and transparent process that protects the voting rights of our state’s citizens, while significantly reducing the potential for voter fraud,” said State Affairs Committee Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, in a statement following the vote.

But Democrats continued to slam the bill as little more than an attempt to undermine President Barack Obama’s re-election effort in 2012 by making it more difficult for Democratic voters to cast their ballots in a crucial swing state.

“It is my sincere hope that my former colleagues in the Senate reject this assault on Florida’s democratic process and defeat this effort to suppress the voting rights of all Floridians,” Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said.

In a politically charged debate, some Democrats harkened back to the days of Jim Crow, when black voters faced death for even attempting to cast ballots.

“We have changed the devices, but we still have a problem,” said Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando.

Others said the bill bordered on anti-Americanism.

“Please do not turn the party of Lincoln into the party of Stalin,” said Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach.

Republicans responded with the same refrain they have pushed throughout the debate: While specific instances of in-person voting fraud in Florida are sparse, the opportunity for tampering with elections is still strong.

“Don’t you understand the damage you’ve done to everybody’s vote when you don’t guard the system?” asked Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the measure.

Supporters of the bill also said that there was no reason for voters who cast their ballots legally to worry about the new rules.

“The only barrier this bill creates is a barrier to fraud,” said Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando.

The measure also includes a provision that would allow lawmakers to propose alternate ballot summaries for Constitutional amendments and, if all else fails, place the text of an amendment before voters.

Lawmakers also approved, on a 79-38 vote, a separate bill (HB 1261) including the same proposal, a response to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike several legislatively-backed amendments from the ballots because of misleading or confusing summaries.

“This bill is all about giving Floridians the right to vote,” said Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville.

But Steinberg said the Legislature could do that by making sure that its first cut at ballot language was more carefully crafted.

“We also have the duty to make sure we shoot straight with the voters,” he said.


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