TAMPA BAY, Florida - With state legislators poised to send an bill overhauling Florida election law, critics are blasting it as a partisan effort to prevent young and minority voters from participating in the voting process.
In a straight party-line vote, the House approved, 79-37, the Republican-sponsored H.B. 1355. The bill takes aim at voter fraud, but most experts in Florida agree that there aren't any current fraud issues that need to be addressed.
The bill would:
- Force anyone updating his or her name or address on election day to fill out a provisional ballot. Since 1973, Florida voters have been able to update name or address without major issues.
- Force any group running a registration drive to fill out paperwork for every volunteer and paid worker with the state.
- Makes it harder for third party groups, such as the Tea Party, to get candidates on the Florida ballot.
- Halves the time that citizens would have to collect signatures to get an initiative on a ballot.
- The senate version of the bill (SB 2086) also reduces the early voting period from two weeks to just one week.
Critics of the bill say students and young voters move so often, the first initiative is aimed at reducing their voting power. They also add that voter-registration groups are often instrumental in getting minorities to vote.
"I guess the question is, 'What's the real purpose of this bill?' asked Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.
"Why are they focused on suppressing the voice of student voters?" added Brad Ashwell with the Florida Public Interest Research Group.
10 News political analyst Bill Ratliff says the bill reeks of partisanship and legislators didn't bother to listen to elections experts, who say there is no fraud problem to address.
"Not allowing address or name changes on Election Day will create an undue burden on eligible voters and will create tens of thousands of unnecessary provisional ballots," said Pinellas Co. Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark. "This will also result in long lines at the polls and discourage many voters from voting.
"Current state statutes effectively prevent widespread voter fraud in Florida. The proposed election reform bills contain provisions that frankly are trying to 'fix' problems that do not exist."
In a Twitter exchange, Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, indicated she may be willing to cross party lines on the bill. Via e-mail, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he could not currently support the bill.
"(The bill) actually limits legitimate voters from voting," Fasano wrote. "Florida has always been recognized as a state that makes it easy for people to vote. Both bills reduce that ability."
The bill will likely end up on the desk of Gov. Rick Scott, who said he was skeptical about any measure that reduces voter participation.
But supporters remain focused.
"Can you spell ACORN?" asked Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, with regards to why reform is needed. "We've had numerous abuses and fraud in the election process and we intend to deal with those."
Even if the bill is signed into law, the courts could still rule it unconstitutional if they find it unfairly supresses voters.
Follow 10 News reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky or Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky.