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More Changes Could Be In Store For Fla. House Election Reform Proposal

A proposal to reform Florida’s electoral process is moving through the Legislature with bipartisan support. Florida’s problems were highlighted during this past election between long ballots and long lines, and even gained a mention in the President’s State of the Union address. But, while the proposal is gaining ground among state lawmakers, some say there’s still more work to do.

Florida lawmakers say they don’t want a repeat of what happened during this past election which included reduced early voting days to long wait times at the polls.

And, they’re not the only ones. President Barack Obama drew further attention to the state’s electoral problems in his recent State of the Union Address:

“We should follow the example of a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor. When she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours," said Obama.

"And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say. Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her. Because Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read ‘I Voted.’”

State lawmakers too were inspired by Victor’s story, like Democratic Representative Alan Williams of Tallahassee.

“Ms. Victor waited in lines too long. Too long for anyone whether they’re 102 or 22. We have an opportunity to put forth a package that Floridians will like and the rest of the United States will say you know what, Florida will no longer be the laughing stock," said Williams.

Williams made his remarks in the Florida House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee, the panel responsible for drafting and vetting a proposal that would reform the state’s election process. Its Chairman Jim Boyd outlines House Bill 7013.

“It increases early voting days from the current required 8 days to a minimum of eight days and a maximum of 14 days, increases early voting hours from the current 96 to a minimum of 48 hours to a maximum of 168 hours. Third, the PCB expands early voting sites to include fairgrounds, civic centers, courthouses, county commission buildings, and convention centers,” said Boyd.

The bill also imposes limits on the number of words used to describe amendments placed on the ballot, and it makes sure the ballot doesn’t get too lengthy.

Many had a hand in suggesting different parts of the bill, including local Supervisors of Elections and state elections officials. Democratic Representative Janet Cruz, who also helped, likes the bill so far, but says it could go further.

“There’s a firm realization now that Florida needs more voting days. We need more polling locations, and in those locations, and those sites, they need to properly staffed and equipped," said Cruz.

"Giving people the ability to change their address at the polling place as was allowed for 40 years until 2011 is the element of a real elections reform package.”

Others like Democratic Representative Katie Edwards offered her own changes with a total of four amendments. Representative Williams offered five. Changes ranged from designating the day of the general election as a statewide holiday to requiring early voting the Sunday before all gubernatorial and presidential elections.

But, Edwards along with Williams withdrew their amendments from consideration, not allowing lawmakers on the panel to call them up for a vote. That concerned Republican Representative Larry Ahern.

“This is the committee for the vetting process to take place, where the questions are asked, where the debate takes place on these nine amendments. I’m not sure what’s wrong with these amendments that they can’t be presented in the Ethics and Elections Committee. So, it’s sort of going around the process in my eyes. So, we’ll certainly want to take a look as those go further through the process,” said Ahern.

Still, the measure got the stamp of approval from committee members, including Republican Representative Dennis Baxley. He’s the man behind the changes to Florida’s electoral system about two years ago, which some nicknamed the “Voter Suppression Act.”

“I believe it’s a fair and needed response. It will go a long ways to dealing with some of the problems voters had this past election, and it’s my honor to support this bill,” said Baxley.

House Bill 7013 passed unanimously in the House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee Wednesday, clearing its first hurdle. And, its next stop is the House Appropriations Committee. Before that, the bill could be undergoing more changes, since the panel Chair Jim Boyd promised to consider more changes to the bill.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.