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As Fla. Election Reform Bills Filed, Partisan War Of Words Continues

The Florida Republican lawmaker who sponsored last-year’s controversial election-law changes that shortened the early voting period has filed new legislation to expand it once again. But the Florida Democratic Party is decrying the new bill as grossly inadequate.

The battle over early voting in Florida has been fought largely along party lines. In lawsuits and on the floor of the legislature, Democrats have charged that Republicans were suppressing voters by shortening the early voting period and making other election-law changes in 2011. The package of changes, approved by the Republican-controlled legislature and Republican Gov. Rick Scott, came under fire during Florida’s rocky general election in November,  with its extremely long lines and confusion about precincts in many South Florida counties.

Scott reversed his position last month, telling CNN he was considering several changes.

“I think there’s three things. One: The length of the ballot. Two: We’ve got to allow our supervisors more flexibility in the size of their polling locations and Three: The number of days we have. We need to go back and look at the number of days of early voting," he said.

Now, the same lawmaker behind the controversial 2011 measure, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami), has filed a bill that would extend early voting from eight to nine days. That would include the Sunday before the election, a day that many Democrats had complained was lost during the previous shortening of days from 14 down to eight.

But the Florida Democratic Party is not happy with Diaz de la Portilla’s proposed change. Democrats’ spokeswoman Brannon Jordan said, election reform must start with a repeal of 2011’s House Bill 1355, which she referred to as the "Voter Suppression Law."

“We think that the Republican proposal is a Band-Aid over a gaping wound, and it fails to restore the electoral voting rights that were stripped from the citizens by Governor Rick Scott and this Republican Legislature," she said.

Diaz de la Portilla did not respond to a request for comment before this story’s deadline.

Democratic lawmakers have filed a series of election-law reform bills that seek to expand the number of early voting hours and include more types of buildings that could be used as early voting sites, among other things.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit challenging the 2011 law, filed by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Jacksonville), is still making its way through the court system. Sec. of State Ken Detzner is seeking a stay in that case until after the legislative session, when he hopes the issues will be resolved.