Legislator files bill to reverse controversial elections measures

By | 01.04.12 | 12:36 pm

State Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach (Pic by Meredith Geddings, via myfloridahouse.gov)

State Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, has introduced a bill that would reverse some of the controversial measures in the elections law passed by the Florida Legislature last year.

Groups opposed to the state’s new elections law have called it a “voter suppression” effort, arguing that the new rules could reduce turnout among young, disabled, minority and low-income voters.

Among the many controversial provisions in the last elections law were restrictions on the amount of time that a third-party registration group has to turn in a voter registration form, a provision that refers an accused third-party registrar of violating the election law to the attorney general, a limit on the shelf-life of ballot initiative signatures, a provision requiring a voter who moves within the same county to fill out an affirmation form and provisions limiting early voting days in the state.

Pafford’s bill would reverse all of those.

According to the bill’s summary, it:

Increases amount of time that third-party voter registration organizations are allowed to hold collected voter registration applications before submitting them; deletes provision authorizing Secretary of State to refer matters to Attorney General for civil action when Secretary reasonably believes that third-party voter registration violation has occurred; increases amount of time that signature on ballot initiative petition is valid; permits elector to vote in precinct to which he or she has moved his or her legal residence if elector completes certain affirmation; increases time allowed for early voting by beginning on 15th day before state or federal election & ending on 2nd day before election.

Pafford’s measure, House Bill 1189 (.pdf), requires that early voting start “on the 15th day before an election that contains state or federal races,” instead of on the 10th day, which is present law, and says that early voting ends “on the 2nd day before the election,” instead of on the third. Last October, state Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, also introduced a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would expand early voting sites around the state.

Pafford’s bill would also require that third party registration groups deliver voter registration forms “to the division or the supervisor of elections within 10 days,” as opposed to the strict 48 hours current law stipulates.

Several groups, including the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, have filed a lawsuit in response to some of the onerous restrictions the state’s current law places on third-party voter registration groups, which includes the strict deadlines for turning in voter registration forms. Two teachers in state have already found themselves in possible legal trouble because they unknowingly violated the state’s strict new rules when they were registering their high school students to vote.

The new bill also removes language that says that “except for an active uniformed services voter or a member of his or her family, an elector whose change of address is from outside the county may not change his or her legal residence at the polling place and vote a regular ballot.”

Florida is currently waiting for a ruling on controversial aspects of its law from a court in the District of Columbia. Five counties in Florida also require federal preclearance of voting laws per the Voting Rights Act, before the state can begin to implement the new law in those counties.

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