What Went Wrong, How To Fix It: Florida Lawmakers Schedule Election Law Hearings

Dec 4, 2012

The agendas probably say nothing about amends-making or damage control, but the mission is already clear as House and Senate elections committees begin hearings today in Tallahassee on overhauling Florida's elections system.

NOW WHAT? Florida House and Senate elections committees begin hearings today on fixing the election law that made voting difficult last month.

Republicans have been amassing power in the Legislature for years. But now, reeling from election day reverses that cost them their supermajorities in both chambers, the party is being held accountable for what many see as a massive overreach: the 2011 election law that restricted early voting, clamped down on voter registration and turned Florida's election day into a slow-motion train wreck of long lines and delayed counts.

Steve Bousquet writes today in the Tampa Bay Times that the Democrats have a great opportunity:

Democrats believe they now own the voting issue and that public opinion is firmly on their side.

The intense emotion surrounding problems at the polls in Florida — and the fact that the whole country saw it — gives it a momentum that's not going away.

Ronald Bilbao of the ACLU of Florida mentioned "the great opportunity we have now" to concentrate public attention directly on voting, and making it easier.

The only ones who can take the issue away from Democrats are Republicans, and the only way they can do that is to outdo Democrats in pushing reforms.

The legislative committees today will begin the discussion of what needs to be changed to make elections functional again. And the Republican leadership is setting the tone, as in this statement from Senate President Don Gaetz: "Floridians should never again have to stand in line for six and seven hours to vote," he said. "This isn't a Third World country."

Gov. Rick Scott's elections chief, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, is scheduled to speak to both committees.

Legislative initiatives are already underway. Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) has already filed a bill to return the new eight-day early voting period to 14 days. Meanwhile, elections supervisors around the state are asking for more freedom to designate early voting sites. And legislative Democrats are asking the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to set hearings on the election law to determine if its intent really was to suppress the Democratic vote.