[UPDATE] Gov. Scott Signs Election Bill

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Gov. Rick Scott signed a controversial elections bill Thursday, sending ripples through a looming special election in Miami-Dade County and, opponents of the measure say, potentially altering the playing field for the 2012 presidential vote.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Kurt Browning said he would issue a directive that could remove some of the sting from a provision limiting when voters who move from county to county can change their addresses.

The measure (HB 1355) takes effect in 62 counties, but not in the five counties where federal authorities must preclear the measure because of Florida’s history of racial discrimination.

Opponents blasted the decision to move forward across part of the state and continued to pin their hopes on the chances that the Department of Justice could ultimately knock down the law.

The only immediate impact was to back up the decision of elections officials in Miami-Dade County to shut down early voting on Sunday for that city’s special mayoral election; former Republican lawmaker Marcelo Llorente has challenged that move in court.

Scott’s office announced his decision on the bill, one of the most fiercely contested measures of the legislative session, without comment. He had said earlier in the week that he wants people to be able to vote – but doesn’t want fraud.

But little more than an hour after the announcement, Browning, the state’s top elections official, addressed reporters to defend a bill that he conceded he had not asked for.

On the address provision, which would require voters who have moved from county to county to cast provisional ballots if they haven’t changed their address before the election, Browning said he believed lawmakers were trying to close off a potential avenue for fraud before it became an issue.

“To me, it wasn’t one of those issues that rose to the level that we needed to fully address. ... (But) I believe that Florida, as has been my policy, wants to be more proactive than reactive,” he said. “I’d much rather address problems before they arise, or the potential of problems arising, than you getting hit in the face with a full-blown problem and don’t have a plan to solve it.”

But Browning said he would use his increased authority under the bill to direct local elections officials that “unless there is evidence of fraud in provisional ballots, they shall count those provisional ballots.”

That move is an attempt to blunt criticism that provisional ballots are rarely counted and any for moving voters would likely be thrown out because they were not cast in the precinct the voter is registered to vote.

Even so, groups opposed to it poured more scorn on a measure they say was aimed less at protecting Florida’s elections and more at demobilizing President Barack Obama’s electoral coalition in a key swing state ahead of the 2012 elections.

In addition to the address change, the measure reduces the number of early-voting days; increases regulations for third-party voter registration organizations; and creates a new panel, chaired by Browning, to set a date for the state’s presidential preference primary.

“If it weren’t so grotesquely un-American, you’d almost want to congratulate them for the audacity and efficiency of the attack,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “Governor Scott and the anti-civil liberties State Legislature have achieved an astonishing voter suppression trifecta. With just one bill, they made it harder to register to vote, harder to cast your vote, and harder to have your vote counted.”

The League of Women Voters of Florida has said the group would stop registering voters when the law takes effect. National groups concerned with the impact on minority voters also laced into the bill.

“The NAACP is outraged that Governor Scott signed this bill that blatantly and maliciously attacks, restricts and suppresses the voting rights of Florida’s racial and ethnic minorities, women, students and working communities,” the NAACP’s national President and CEO, Benjamin Todd Jealous, said in a statement. “We are calling upon all Floridians to stand up for the rights of all Florida citizens and repeal this deplorable new law.”

Opponents also vowed that additional moves will be taken against the measure.

“We are confident that this bill, which is nothing more than a power-grab by Republicans, will be overturned by the courts and rejected by the U.S. Justice Department,” Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said.

(UPDATE) 5-19 10:45pm by Amy Long

Governor Rick Scott signed the elections bill, saying it would help curb voter fraud. However, Leon County Supervisors of Elections, Ion Sancho, says the real corruption is among the politicians themselves.

"The political leadership did not like the outcome of the last presidential election, and so, they are actually trying to manipulate the election laws to change the outcome." says Sancho.

Sancho says he thinks the bill is not only unnecessary; it undoes all of the improvements Florida has made since the 2000 elections, and would end up cost more after paying poll workers time and a half for eight short days.

Sancho says the legislatures attempt to change the voting process in 2005 was struck down by the courts ruled unconstitutional and he will not be surprised if this one is as well.

Statistically, Sancho says, more democrats cast a ballot during early voting and more republicans use absentee ballots.

[UPDATE] 5-19 4:30pm -

Effective today Florida’s Elections laws have changed. Governor Rick Scott signed a controversial elections bill this afternoon.

The new law shortens early voting from two weeks to eight days, forces people who change their registration information the day they vote to cast a provisional ballot, and decreases from 10 days to two the amount of time third party voter registration groups have to turn in voter applications. Lawmakers passed the bill and Governor Rick Scott signed it saying it would help curb voter fraud… Yet there were only four arrest warrants issued for voter fraud over the last four years. Secretary of State Kurt Browning, held a news conference to discuss the new law today. He says it’s about being proactive.

“I’d much rather address problems before they rise, then get hit in the face with a full-blown problem and not have a plan to solve it,” said Browning.

Governmental watchdogs, like Brad Ashwell with Florida Public Interest Research Group, say the bill is really about keeping Democrats from voting.

“The governor had a change to say he wasn’t a politician as usual, he wasn’t just another party player and he passed a blatantly partisan bill. If you look all the different piece of this bill that are controversial, they all benefit one political party, the party in power,” said Ashwell.

The U.S. Justice Department will review the changes to see if they violate the Federal Voter Rights Act.

[UPDATE] 5-19 2pm -

Gov. Rick Scott has signed legislation (HB 1355) making changes to voting and elections procedures.

Stay with WCTV for more on the story.



A former Republican legislator running for mayor of Miami-Dade County filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to temporarily block part of a controversial elections law overhaul as Gov. Rick Scott continued to ponder whether and when to sign the massive measure.

Former Rep. Marcelo Llorente, who placed fourth in the mayor’s race in a recent poll conducted for several area media outlets, filed the suit two days after elections officials notified candidates that there would be no early voting Sunday because of the perceived likelihood that Scott would sign the bill (HB 1355).

The lawsuit -- prepared for Llorente by former Rep. J.C. Planas, R-Miami -- contends that the county should not be allowed to follow a law that hasn’t yet been signed. Llorente, who shied away from criticizing the bill itself, said the change should not be imposed “at the 11th hour” now that early voting is already underway.

“This is a fight to ensure that the people of Miami-Dade have access to vote in the way that they had been promised,” Llorente said.

The battle stems from a provision in the law that cuts back on early voting, which would go from starting on the 15th day before the election and ending on the second day before the vote to beginning on 10th day prior to Election Day and ending on the third day before.

It was one of several provisions that sparked Democratic anger as majority Republicans pushed the bill through the Legislature. Opponents contended the measure was nothing more than an effort to discourage President Barack Obama’s electoral coalition from returning to the polls in 2012, while Republicans said the bill was needed to close potential avenues for fraud at the polls.

If enforced, the measure would carve Sunday voting out of the election. Voters who don’t vote early or by absentee are set to cast ballots in the special election on May 24.

But Llorente’s lawsuit -- filed against Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Lester Sola, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, County Manager Alina Tejada Hudak and Secretary of State Kurt Browing -- says the public notice sent by Miami elections officials on May 5 set early voting for May 9 through Sunday. After a bitter political fight, HB 1355 passed the Legislature the next day.

“Because the Governor had yet to sign HB 1355 on May 16, Defendants SOLA, HUDAK and the BCC violated [state law] by canceling early voting for Sunday, May 22, 2011 after the dates of early voting had been advertised and early voting had commenced.”

Despite the seeming certainty of Miami-Dade officials -- and many political observers -- that the bill will become law, a spokesman for Scott said Wednesday afternoon that the governor hasn’t decided whether to sign it.

“Governor Scott is carefully reviewing that bill along with all the others that are reaching his desk,” Press Secretary Lane Wright wrote in an email. “He has not yet made a decision.”

Also on Wednesday, Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, called on Scott to veto the measure. In addition to complaints about the early-voting portion of the measure, opponents have assailed the bill for limiting when voters can change their addresses and for increasing regulation of third-party voter registration groups.

“This bill was not requested by an overwhelming number of citizens or supervisors of elections,” Bullard said in a statement issued by his office. “This bill does nothing to increase the number of voters. However, it will reduce the number of eligible voters and provisional ballots cast. Historically, half of all provisional ballots are invalidated.”

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