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Elections reform bill draws outrage, questions

Rep. Dennis Baxley (R)
Rep. Dennis Baxley (R)

By James Call


Tallahassee, FL – Election officials, political activists and a voter advocacy group say they don't like what they saw when they got their first look at an election reform bill Friday morning. James Call reports, the House Government Operations Subcommittee approved the omnibus bill that makes several changes to state election law.

The Committee accepted the bill's sponsor explanation that Friday's presentation was the start of a discussion to insure the credibility of Florida's elections. Ocala Representative Dennis Baxley proposed giving the Secretary of State more authority over county elections supervisors, increase reporting requirements for third party groups registering voters and no longer allowing voters to change names or addresses when they cast a ballot.

"We want credibility. We want credibility our elections are legitimate. That they are valid. They are accurate. They are not fraud infested. They are not riddled with errors. The integrity of this elections process is absolutely essential for the confidence of the people."

Committee Republicans voted yes, Democrats voted no and citizens who testified conceded they didn't know what to make of the proposal. What had been a 17-page bill Thursday morning grew into a 128-page committee substitute proposal overnight. Ron Labasskey, the attorney for the association of county elections supervisors was trying to digest the new information when he addressed the committee.

"On page 58, you make a substantial change in what happens at the polling place on Election Day. This provision of this bill eliminates the ability to change their address, or their name at the polling place they are going to have to cast a provisional ballot if this section goes through that's a policy decision obviously for the Legislature to make."

Floridians have been allowed to change their address or name at their voting precinct on elections day for 40 years.

"No evidence of any problem. What this is doing is going to make voting slower for every citizen in the state of Florida."

Leon County Elections Supervisor, Ion Sancho held court outside the committee room following the vote. He said the change is unneeded; the state has a database to confirm a person's identity. And a new deadline for provisional ballots upsets him. He said requiring a voter to step out of line to file paperwork will create longer lines at the polls and will lead to frustrated voters and ballots that won't be counted.

"Because it will mean forcing people out of line, not allowing people to vote normally. If this is your mother or your sister who all of a sudden is told and treated as if they were a felon, get out of line you are not allowed to vote normally', and there is no guarantee that your vote will be counted. For what purpose? For what purpose? This is simply partisan shenanigans raising their heads again and the citizens of Florida should be outraged."

The proposal also increases regulation of third party groups who registered voters. In addition to increasing their paperwork it would also reduce the time they have to get completed registration forms to the state. This gets to the heart of the League of Women Voters activism. Ben Wilcox is the groups' spokesman.

"So in a year that you are seeking to deregulate as much areas of state government we would ask why are you adding burdens and costly regulations over groups like the League of Women Voters and creating new costly bureaucratic requirements for the supervisors of elections and the department of state."

"This is an extreme makeover of the election code."

In debate Volusia Representative Dwayne Taylor explained his no vote.

"Just getting it last night I have not fully digest what all is in it. So I had to listen to the the testimony of those who work in this every day the elections supervisor and when they have problems I have problems because they do this every day."

Representative Baxley said he wants to clean up Florida's election's process in advance of the 2012 election. He told the bill's critics that he is willing to massage the measure to give them more comfort but that there are problems that need to be addressed.

"Again there is a perception in a lot of people's minds that there was a lot of, not intentionally fraud but just a lot of mess of people of people registered in more than one place, just a lot of errors probably and how that happen so we are trying to be more cautious in how that happens."

The "yes" vote was decided along party lines and the bill's next stop is the House State Affairs Committee.