Election Reform Effort Bipartisan No More

By: Brandon Larrabee News Service of Florida | Posted: March 19, 2013 3:55 AM
Eleanor Sobel, Jack Latvala and Scott Arceneaux

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater and FDP Executive Director Scott Arceneaux

The bipartisan consensus on overhauling Florida’s elections laws shattered Monday, as the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee passed the main reform proposal on a party-line vote after swatting down a series of amendments.

It was the first time any version of the measure (SB 600) has not received unanimous or near-unanimous support, and marked a striking change for a committee that had so far handled the issues before it on a largely bipartisan basis.

The 15 Democratic amendments -- several of which were withdrawn, but many of which were defeated on party-line votes -- helped spark the friction. Democrats had long signaled to the GOP majority that they considered the legislation inadequate.

Nonetheless, Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who chairs the committee, was visibly angered by the amendments. At one point, during a debate on how many ballot summaries for legislatively-sponsored constitutional amendments should face a 75-word limit, he underscored that similar legislation had passed the House with a single dissenting vote -- from a Republican.

“A hundred and 18 members of the House, including every single Democrat member of the House, voted for that bill and that language,” Latvala said. “And now we’re having to replay the fight today.”

Latvala stormed out of the committee room after the meeting and declined to speak to reporters -- a rarity -- saying he had somewhere else to be.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said after the meeting that Democrats wanted their concerns about the legislation addressed.

“There were some really important amendments to the Democrats and we were hoping that we would get some concessions today,” she said.

When a reporter noted that every Democrat in the House supported the measure, she responded: “I don’t speak for them.”

Voting-rights organizations and House Democrats’ support for the legislation had always come with the caveat that they would like to see a more expansive bill. But Democrats on the Ethics and Elections Committee were the first to allow those concerns to prompt them to vote against the measure.

The Florida Democratic Party, which had earlier criticized the bill even as its members voted for it, blasted the measure again Monday.

"This half-hearted attempt by Republicans to address elections reforms is nothing short of shameful and comes at the expense of Floridians' fundamental right to participate in the democratic process," FDP Executive Director Scott Arceneaux said.

As it stands now, the legislation would take several steps to try to undo the long lines and voting snafus that once again shone an unfavorable spotlight on Florida’s elections process in November. It would give county supervisors the ability to offer as many as 14 days of early voting -- though they could remain at the current eight. It would allow for more flexibility in selecting early voting sites.

But Democrats want to require 14 days of early voting or create a formula that would require more early voting in larger counties. Republicans have resisted those calls, saying supervisors should make the decision.

“What may work in Broward doesn’t necessarily work in Seminole,” said Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.

The bill would also limit the first version of ballot summaries on constitutional amendments proposed by the Legislature to 75 words, the same cap faced by citizen initiatives.


Tags: News, Politics

Comments (2)

10:13AM MAR 19TH 2013
Such incredible fair and balanced reporting . . . . . one brief sentence on the actual substance of Democratic concerns and amendments . . . . . I guess they just can't be allowed into the sunshine, else they catch on and persuade someone of their merits (citing just a couple of examples):

o allowing elections supervisors even more flexibility in choosing early voting locations

o allowing voters to change their address at the polls without being forced to cast a provisional ballot, as they used to be able to do before the 2011 election law changes

One might debate the good/bad merits of such changes, but it appears only "fair and balanced" reporting resorts to hiding the substance of such amendments from their readers . . . . . . appears that SSN really does want to enage in the partisan politics of "swatting down a series of amendments" . . . . . the real question is does this legislation now take us back to where we were before the voter suppressing legislation was passed . . . and the answer to that is "NO" . . . which makes both the Legislature and SSN reporting just . . . .

Pathetic . . .
10:19AM MAR 19TH 2013
I'm usually with Frank but this was not from SSN (does that stand for Super Stale News since the big story is about redistricting?). It's a News Service of Florida story.

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