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Elections Reform Effort Nears Final Votes Amid Democratic Opposition

mail-in ballots at the Leon County Supervisors of Elections office wait to go out (2018)
Tom Flanigan

A key elections bill backed by the state’s supervisors heading for final votes. The measure is meant to address issues stemming from the 2018 election but Democrats say it doesn’t do enough.

Last year local supervisors of elections found themselves trying to handle three statewide recounts in addition to local races. Bad ballot designs, mis-matched signatures, and questions around vote-by-mail and provisional ballots coupled with a tight turnaround deadline for certification made the process harder for some supervisors, especially those in South Florida. It also gave the state some unwanted attention.

Reports from national Media outlets like CNN, USA Today and ABC News along with local coverage drew attention to the monumental task of recounts. Larger counties like Palm Beach and Broward missed the deadline to submit their recount totals. The ghosts of past elections loomed over 2018. Republican Representative and former state GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia has taken on the task of trying to clean up the process.

“It is a work product of listening to stakeholders, supervisors of elections and closely watching elections myself for a number of years," he explained during the bill's first committee hearing in March. "It expands access to polls by shifting the elections process earlier and giving more time to mail and process vote-by-mail ballots. This will reduce the bottle-necking we’ve seen toward the end of our elections and thus having supervisors of elections fall behind.”    

Ingoglia has worked directly with Paul Lux, head of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections who says, "it is very, very seldom we see a work product here in the legislature that takes everything the supervisors have asked for and puts it into legislative proposal."  

Lux has backed the bill, saying its provisions largely address the problems raised during the last election cycle.

“This bill addresses 11 of the remaining 13 items that supervisors of elections identified at our last association meeting as legislative priorities, and things we would like to see accomplished this year.” 

Lux has stuck to that endorsement over the objection of some Democratic lawmakers who say the bill will suppress voting, not make it easier.  Meanwhile, Leon Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley, a Democrat takes issue with the way Democratic lawmakers have characterized the bill. 

"We don’t see that this disenfranchises voters," Earley says. "What disenfranchises voters is giving them the false perception that they can request a ballot very close to the election through the mail. Receive it in time. Quite often they receive it on election day with the current deadlines. And really they have no  way to get it back to us.” 

The bill extends the time frame for vote-by-mail ballots to be sent out, returned and counted. It requires supervisors and canvassing boards to get formal training on signature matching and creates some standardization for ballot designs, among other new requirements. Similar language is found in several Senate bills and both chambers must pass the exact same bill in order for it to go to the governor’s desk for him to sign or veto.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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