A Florida Senate panel approved a sweeping set of changes to an election bill that bring it more in line with a House measure that has good-government groups up in arms over provisions they say would suppress voters’ access to the polls.
A Florida Senate panel approved a sweeping set of changes to an election bill that bring it more in line with a House measure that has good-government groups up in arms over provisions they say would suppress voters’ access to the polls. #
The changes, added yesterday afternoon in a 4,023-line amendment, would shorten early voting periods, restrict voters’ ability to change their addresses at the polls, and place new regulations on organizations that register new voters. #
Like the House bill, the changes attracted a parade of opposition from public interest groups and supervisors of elections. No one from the public has shown up to support either proposal. #
Ion Sancho, the Leon County Supervisor of Elections, said the regulations would affect all sorts of groups that sign up new voters, from Eagle Scouts and Sunday school teachers to Realtors and nurses. That provision, he predicted, would likely get struck down in court, but the amendment includes a severability clause that would ensure other provisions remain intact. #
Sancho also said that halving early voting periods from two weeks to one, “for some spurious reason called efficiency,” would reduce voters’ access to the polls. Early voting allowed supervisors to accommodate record-setting turnout during the 2008 presidential election. #
“You’re having a record-setting turnout and you’re reducing access to early voting by 50 percent,” he said. “That is simply not serving the citizens of the state of Florida under any circumstances.” #
Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, said the early voting changes were “Machiavellian,” given the long lines at the polls during the last presidential election, and could lead to voter disenfranchisement. #
Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said he was open to changes, especially of the early voting provisions, but that the criticisms were unfair. Most of the changes were intended to enfranchise people. #
“There are so many good things in here that to just home in on the early voting, and what’s worse, to attribute any kind of a sinister or Machiavellian motive or something like that — I frankly take umbrage,” he said. #
He noted that many of the provisions, such as increasing the time periods for which absentee ballots are available and when elections supervisors can start counting them, as well as requiring polling places to be included on voter registration cards, would help make voting more accessible. #
But many of those changes were part of the original bill, not added by the amendment unveiled yesterday. Brad Ashwell of the Florida Public Interest Research Group said the amendment added today was, for all intents and purposes, a separate bill. The generally constructive original body of Senate Bill 2086 has now “become a train,” with troublesome provisions hitching a ride hours before they’re brought up for a vote. #
The measure still has to clear one more committee. Sen. Diaz de la Portilla has pledged to meet with critics and make “tweaks” before the measure goes before the full Senate for approval. #
The National Institute for Money in State Politics takes a look at the numbers. Prison firms and firms focused on prison health care gave nearly $1 million to Florida politicians in 2010—the most the industry has given over the last decade. Some four fifths of that came from the GEO Group and its health care subsidiary.