State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala (Pic by Mark Foley)
State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala (Pic by Mark Foley)

House proposes sweeping rewrite of state election laws

By | 04.04.11 | 9:49 am

On Friday, a state House panel approved a wide-ranging rewrite of Florida’s election laws that, among other things, could penalize voters who move prior to election day and impose new regulations on groups that register voters.

An amended version of the 128-page bill was released late Thursday, giving the public just hours to digest it before it was approved Friday morning by the House Government Operations Subcommittee.

One provision would require voters whose address doesn’t match their registration to vote by provisional ballot. Ion Sancho, the Leon County supervisor of elections, called that portion unnecessary and “disturbing.” It could cause votes to go uncounted, because provisional ballots are often reserved for close races, and also create a new hassle for poll workers.

“That one provision slows down the process for every voter in this state,” he said.

For four decades, the state has allowed citizens with proper photo ID to change their addresses on election day and vote normally, Sancho said. In recent years, a state database has streamlined that process, making it easier for poll workers to check whether someone has already voted and to confirm voters’ identities.

After the electoral debacles earlier in the decade, Sancho said Florida developed a system that worked well in 2008 and 2010. Why change that system going into 2012?

State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who is sponsoring the measure, said the goal was to have a smooth process going into the next election cycle.

There is a difference between registering to vote and showing up to vote, he said. Those things should be taken care of in advance.

Ben Wilcox of the League of Women voters said another provision would create “new and burdensome” regulations for groups who want to sign up new voters. The groups would have to register in a new state database and include names and addresses of their officers and all their voter registration workers, as well as sworn statements that they would follow the state’s election laws.

Other provisions would create additional buffers between voters waiting in line and campaign workers, reduce from four years to two the length of time signatures gathered in petition drives are considered valid, penalize election supervisors who file late reports, and implement Florida’s new restrictions on voting rights for felons.

Wilcox said the bill looked like it had been rushed through the process.

Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, acknowledged the many concerns raised about the bill, and suggested there would be time to work them out during future committee stops. Baxley pledged to continue refining the measure.

Freshman Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who is sponsoring an election bill of his own, said he noticed a trend in which lawmakers move bills through committees despite objections, amid promises to work them out later. Why not resolve the issues in the current committee?

He was overruled, and the bill passed the committee, 9-4.

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