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Election Reform In Florida: Is The Conversation Over?

Governor Rick Scott has signed Florida’s new elections reform bill into law, but will that solve the problems that arose during last year’s Presidential election? Some say yes, but others say there’s more work to do stop long lines at the polls and protect the state from further embarrassment.

Last year, Florida encountered a lot of problems during the 2012 presidential election from counting delays to long lines at the polls.

“You shouldn’t have to wait four or five days after the election to know who won the electoral votes from the state of Florida. We shouldn’t be yellow when everyone else is red or blue. We should be able to get that right. You shouldn’t have to wait for six hours to vote,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford following a Work Plan Tour in Tampa.

Weatherford along with Senate President Don Gaetz made it a priority this Legislative session to reform Florida’s electoral process to avoid those kinds of delays.

The newly signed the election reform package allows for more early voting sites, gives elections supervisors a choice in expanding early voting days, and shortens the length of the ballot. Some say an elections bill Governor Rick Scott signed into law in 2011, which was championed by the Republican-led Legislature and cutback early voting days from 14 to 8, was a major factor in the state’s recent election problems. 

“We believe with what we did this year solves a lot of the challenges we have in our elections process and takes us from a state that has been lagging and frankly embarrassed ourselves on a couple of occasions to hopefully be a model when it comes to our elections process and the Senate President and I said very early on that it should be a bipartisan issue, it was, and it’s a product that I’m very happy to see the Governor sign,” Weatherford added.

Governor Scott recently signed the election reform bill, though there is some question whether he intended to sign it. The Miami Herald reports Scott accidentally signed the measure into law because it was included in a stack of budget bills, though a spokeswoman for Scott’s office declined to confirm that. In addition to signing and vetoing a measure, Scott could have let the bill become law without taking any action.

But, Scott does say he thinks the state’s election system needs some changes.

“Well, you know, my goal is to have honest, fair elections so that people feel comfortable voting,” said Scott.

And, groups like the League of Women Voters of Florida are celebrating the bill. The League’s President Deirdre Macnab say there’s only one emotion that could sum up her feeling on the new law.

“Well, I would say jubilant, very important steps were taken,” said Macnab.

"The access to early voting was expanded, greater flexibility was given to supervisors, and the opportunities for Floridians who like to vote by mail will now for the first time, they’ll have a chance to rectify problems, such as if they forgot to sign their name, or there’s no signature match, they’ll be able to go in and repair those problems, and have their vote count.”

But, she says while she’s happy about the new changes, she wishes more had been included in the new elections law. And, Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith agrees.

“I think it reversed a few of the things that caused problems, but it could have done so much more. Governor Rick Scott signing it? Eh…, it’s a start, but I think the Legislature should have done more, the Governor should have required more of the Legislature so that we could truly reform Florida’s electoral process. We’re still going to keep the conversation going, and we’re going to push for some of the things that are still not in this bill,” said Smith.

Smith says giving elections supervisors the option to allow early voting the Sunday before Election Day should have been mandatory. It’s a practice commonly referred to as “Souls to the Polls,” a popular day for minorities to vote.

“It’s one of those things that it may be done in Dade County, it may be done in Dixie, but not in Duval County, and that’s not fair,” Smith added.

But, Senate President Don Gaetz says elections supervisors want a choice on whether to expand early voting days because one-size does not fit all.

“We think that’s pioneering. Maybe in some ways, it was a little bit risky because people said everyone was treated the same way, and wear the same strait-jacket. We don’t think so, and so we think the elections bill is a victory, and we’ll take a win for that,” said Gaetz.

But, with the new election law in place, is the conversation regarding election reform over? Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who touts the election bill signing as a historic moment in Florida’s history, doesn’t think so.

“You have to remember that as people’s voting behaviors change, we’ll need to constantly change our laws, we need to update them from time to time, and we need to be innovative when it comes to meeting the demands of the voting public, but I do believe this year the elections reform package that was passed was very comprehensive and goes a long way to solve the problems that we had in the presidential election,” Detzner told WFSU.

The law takes effect January 1st of next year.

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