Attempt to expand early voting fails in Florida Senate

By | 03.08.12 | 9:23 am

A last-ditch effort to expand early voting before Florida’s legislative session ends this week failed in the state Senate yesterday.

The Miami Herald reports:

Deciding that the proposal was off topic, Senate leaders refused to allow African-American senators to tag a proposal expanding early voting onto voter identification legislation.

Sen. Chris Smith, D-Ft. Lauderdale, filed an amendment to HB 1461 that would have given counties the option of opening early voting locations on the Sunday before an election day.

HB 1461 seeks to change a different provision of last year’s election law. The measure clarifies that poll workers can use identification cards provided by voters to confirm addresses but not to challenge where a voter lives.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, who sponsored the measure in the Senate, objected to Smith’s amendment. It strayed too far from the topic of the original legislation and was a violation of Senate rules, Diaz de la Portilla said.

Last year, the Florida Legislature passed a controversial bill that completely overhauled the state’s elections laws. The bill has drawn fire from advocacy and voting rights groups across the country, as well as federal legislators. Critics of Florida’s elections law have taken issue with provisions that place onerous restrictions on third-party voter registration drives, shorten the “shelf life” of signatures collected for ballot initiatives, complicate the process by which voters may change their registered addresses on election day, and reduce the number of early voting days.

Research released a few days ago shows that the law has already affected voter turnout.

Some groups have filed legal challenges to the law, claiming it was a concerted “voter suppression” effort aimed at hindering access to the polls for minorities, students and low-income voters during the 2012 election.

A court in Tallahassee is currently considering a challenge to the law filed by the League of Women Voters of Florida, Rock the Vote, Florida PIRG, and others. The groups filed a lawsuit this past December charging that the law “unconstitutionally and unlawfully burdens their efforts, and the efforts of other individuals and community-based groups, to encourage civic engagement and democratic participation by assisting Florida citizens in registering to vote and exercising their fundamental right to vote.”

More recently, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was interested in further examining the law.

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