[UPDATE] 5-2 3pm - TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) --
Sen. Bill Nelson, who is seeking his third term next year, says the sole purpose of election law changes sought by Republicans is to discourage people from voting.
Nelson, flanked by other Democratic leaders, also brought up the
killing of Osama bin Laden in arguing against the legislation
Monday, saying the proposed changes could mean military absentee
ballots are thrown out that would now be counted.
Among the changes would be a requirement that signatures on
absentee ballots match those on voter registration cards. Nelson
said that means if a William Jones signs his military absentee
ballot Sgt. Bill Jones, it could be thrown out.
The legislation would also force people to vote with a
provisional ballot if they try to update their name or address at
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, April 27, 2011 -
Opponents of a massive Senate bill overhauling the state’s elections process accused backers of ramming the measure through its final committee Tuesday as it moves toward the Senate floor.
The Senate Budget Committee approved the measure on a 13-7 vote, after weighing the bill (SB 2086) for almost an hour but hearing just a few minutes of public testimony from one member of the public. That brought a sharp rebuke from groups opposed to the measure, which would make it more difficult for some voters to cast ballots.
“Passing a bill that will disenfranchise voters (namely student voters) out of committee without public testimony should be shocking,” said Brad Ashwell of Florida PIRG in a statement following the vote. “But this egregious act is strangely what we’ve come to expect out of [a] Legislature that seems drunken with power. To not take public testimony and deny the public their last opportunity to weigh in on a bill that will be so detrimental to the public best interest is simply shameful.”
But Budget Chairman JD Alexander said after the committee’s meeting that the move to shorten debate was needed in order to get the bill out of committee with time running short. The panel is not scheduled to meet again this session, though lawmakers have said it could have a meeting called for Thursday.
“I frankly think it’s inappropriate to allow protracted public comment to effectively kill a bill by not having it come to a vote,” Alexander said. “At this point, we’ve had all session long for folks to comment on various bills. I thought it was important to vote the bill, which we did.”
The measure in many ways mirrors a lengthy, omnibus elections bill that moved through the House, often after bitter and partisan debate. While Democrats and groups opposed to the measure say it is an attempt to disenfranchise thousands of Floridians -- particularly those who might support President Barack Obama’s re-election effort -- Republicans say the bill is needed to ensure that fraud does not decide elections.
But the two versions also differ on some key points, including whether the state should create a panel that could move the state’s Jan. 31 presidential preference primary to try to defuse a showdown with the national Republican Party. The House bill does that, the Senate bill doesn’t.
The only testimony lawmakers heard at the budget committee meeting was against the bill. Daniel Hunt, of Newberry, noted that the nation is involved in several wars aimed at spreading democracy.
“And right here in our own home, we’re figuring out neat ways to stop people from voting,” he said.
Early voting was created after the 2000 election debacle to make sure votes were being counted.
By 2008, more people voted by absentee or early than on Election Day.
But now, a massive elections bill moving through the legislature would shorten early voting from two weeks to just five days.
GOP sponsors say it is an effort to cut costs.
Miguel Diaz de la Portillia a Republican Senator from Miami says,
"Number one, overall throughout the years, it hasn't increased overall turnout."
But state elections records show turnout is up five percent, from 70 to 75 percent since the 2000 election.
Attempts to restore early voting to two weeks were shouted down in a key Senate committee.
"No.The Nays Have it".
But Senators are feeling pressure, offering to come back with the same number of hours but fewer days of early voting.
Don Gaetz a Republican Senator from Niceville says,
"So to get the same number of hours, but you do it in a fewer number of days, would actually expand the number of hours per day and make it much more convenient for working families".
Elections supervisors met with Senators after the vote, telling them they would like to keep the early voting just as it's always been.
David Stafford, the Escambia Elections Supervisor voiced his opinion after the vote,
"We're trying to get as much opportunity, particularly in the general election cycle for people to early vote as possible".
While some key Senators say they're willing to make changes later, There's no guarantee they'll happen
The next stop for the voting bill is the Senate Floor.