Omnibus Bill Stops Short of Real Electoral Reform

April 24, 2013 –

The Florida Senate voted Wednsday in favor of an election reform omnibus bill, SB600HB1713. Before the vote, Sen. Jack Latvala removed a harmful amendment that would have created new restrictions to voter assistance at the polls. Among other provisions, the final measure includes only partial reinstatement of the early voting period by allowing supervisors of elections to offer early voting for between eight to 14 days at their own discretion, and allows voters who move across county lines to vote a regular ballot if they move to a county that has electronic poll books. The bill also creates new restrictions on the use of emergency absentee ballots.

“We applaud the bold efforts of our state and national partners, who united to oppose the election bill’s amendment that would have drastically limited assistance for voters who require translation and literacy help at the polls,” said Florida New Majority Executive Director, Gihan Perera. “Thanks to our collective letters, demonstrations, op-eds, phone calls and tweets demanding that the amendment be withdrawn, those harmful restrictions were removed from the bill. However, while the bill ultimately passed by the Senate today offers a start toward election reform, these changes do not go far enough. It is insufficient to give all 67 Florida counties the mere option to expand early voting. To avoid long lines again, the state must restore the mandatory 14 days of early voting, including the Sunday before Election Day. The right to vote is not a discretionary item. It is the most fundamental element of our democracy and should be strongly protected.”

“This omnibus bill falls short of protecting Florida’s voters,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “To truly fix the problems from the last election, Florida needs a mandatory 14 days of early voting. Smaller counties can simply have their Supervisor of Election’s office open during this period, as they typically are, with one poll worker and one voting machine. Early voting is too important to leave up to 67 individual counties’ discretion – especially when more than 200,000 Floridians ultimately gave up on waiting in the long lines of 2012, and walked away without voting. These continued problems further underscore the need for an explicit, fundamental right to vote in Florida law, which unfortunately has not yet received attention in the Florida legislature. Passing the right-to-vote bill that community groups proposed is the best way to protect citizens from the barriers that we see to voting, year after year, and to finally guarantee that every citizen can vote in elections that are free, fair and accessible.”