Wed May 8, 2013
How The Elections Bill Will Impact South Florida Voters
Many South Florida voters were still in line to cast ballots during the 2012 election hours after President Barack Obama had been declared the winner.
Twelve years after hanging chads and the infamous election recount, Florida was again a national punchline last November.
Elections supervisors blamed the length of the ballot and fewer days for early voting as reasons for the long lines in some areas.
So, the Florida Legislature has passed a bill to undo some of the election changes they made two years ago.
But Democrats say it's not enough.
Alfie Fernandez waited in line for hours to vote at the West Kendall Regional Library.
“At my daughter's elementary school, my friend went and she told me she only waited for 15 minutes. But here – disaster,” Fernandez said. “Every single day it was like this.”
Democrats blame election law changes made by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011 that included a reduction in the number of early voting days.
Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said lawmakers rolled back some of those changes thanks to input from elections supervisors.
“The things that they wanted, that they felt would give them the greatest number of tools to do their job for the citizens of this state are in this bill,” Thrasher said.
- Voters won't have anymore record-long ballots because the bill limits the summary for constitutional amendments.
- Supervisors will have the option of offering up to 14 days of early voting again. That includes the Sunday before Election Day. Many minority, Democratic voters cast ballots on that day in 2008.
- The list of allowable voting sites is expanding to include government-owned senior and community centers. For now, early voting locations are limited to the main or branch office of the supervisor, city hall, and public libraries.
Miami Gardens Democratic Sen. Oscar Braynon thinks the bill doesn't go far enough.
“If someone chooses to do what happened last time in early voting and have eight days and have lines around the corner and only have it at libraries,” Braynon said, “the supervisor of election has the option to do that.”
Lawmakers chose not to require the longer hours after hearing from supervisors in small and rural counties.
Smaller counties don't need the extra voting days and locations, said University of South Florida political scientist Dr. Susan MacManus.
"Small counties do not have the same demands as your big counties. So many of these proposals are really aimed at the large, diverse, big counties,” MacManus said, “and the smaller counties would say we don't need that.”
One provision that was stripped from the bill would have punished elections supervisors who fail to adequately perform their duties. It was recommended by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.
“We had a lot of talk here, a lot of talk about what we need to do in terms of reforming the process so that we don't have the problems that five counties out of 67 suffered in the last election cycle,” Diaz de la Portilla said. “What this does is send a strong message of accountability to that supervisor of elections.”
Five counties, including Miami Dade, had various problems last November, from equipment malfunctions to a flood of absentee ballots.
But lawmakers didn't like the idea of Florida's appointed Secretary of State being able to punish an elected county supervisor.
Bradenton Republican Rep. Jim Boyd says measures are in place to handle those who don't perform up to par.
“The one appointed supervisor is in Miami Dade County, so ultimately that supervisor would be accountable to the county commission,” Boyd said. “In the case of the elected supervisors, certainly first and foremost they're accountable to the voters in their community, and then the Secretary of State and others have some ability to intervene in a process if there's a problem.”
- Under the new bill, supervisors must post a report online detailing their preparations months before an election.
- Voters who forget to sign their absentee ballots will be notified and given a second chance before the ballot is declared invalid.
- Vendors who supply supervisors with defective machinery could face a $25-thousand fine.
- No more leapfrogging ahead of a handful of key early primary states. Lawmakers decided Florida's presidential primary will be held on the first Tuesday allowed by national Democrat and Republican party rules.
MacManus says this bill comes down to both political parties seeing a need to do something.
“Nothing pushes legislators to action more than national embarrassment, and that's what happened to Florida on election night,” MacManus. “There were a lot of these Republicans who heard from their Republican county supervisor of elections what was wrong.”
Gov. Rick Scott pushed for the changes lawmakers made in 2011. Now, he said he'll sign the bill to undo some of those changes.