Jack Latvala Not Ready to Impose 75-Word Ballot Cap on Legislators

By: Jim Turner | Posted: January 15, 2013 3:55 AM

Miami-Dade ballots

Proposals to give elections supervisors a little more flexibility on where early voting could be held, or if polls should be opened the day before a general election, got plenty of Senate support on Monday.

But members of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee are more divided when it comes to limiting their say, something Gov. Rick Scott has suggested.

Committee Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, wasn’t completely sold on the argument from elections supervisors to shorten the length of amendments that legislators are allowed to post on the ballot.

“That law was changed in 2000, it has worked well for 10 years and the one Legislature that put too many amendments on the ballot to change that law, when there was a good reason to do (it) to start, I think we have to think long and hard about that,” said Latvala, who hopes his committee can make recommendations in February.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, appeared to back the supervisors' recommendation, capping the legislators at 75 words, the same as others who get an amendment on the ballot.

“If everybody thinks that is the right thing to do, then we ought to look at that very seriously,” Thrasher said.

Supervisors claimed the length of the 11 amendments proposed by legislators contributed to the long lines that played a part in Florida’s 2012 election troubles.

The supervisors called before the committee to discuss the 2012 election problems and to offer recommendations blamed legislators for limiting early voting to elections offices, city halls and public libraries, being too rigid when reducing the number of early voting days in 2010, and allowing legislators unlimited space for their own ballot proposals.

“If we can elect a president of the United States solely on his or her name, I think we can vote on amendments of 75 words or less,” said Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel 

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said the Senate must be aware that any changes will be fully scrutinized by the media, which have been highly critical of the state’s ability to properly conduct an election without long lines or Election Night counting problems.

“We need to make changes so that we get the ballots counted on time and as early as possible and we don’t make any errors. Other states have longer times to get the votes in, but it doesn’t matter,” Sobel said. “In our state it matters, especially because we have so many Electoral College votes.”

Besides the Senate committee’s review, Secretary of State Ken Detzner continues to work on his own review and recommendations for Scott.

Scott has said the state should consider giving supervisors more flexibility in where early voting could be held, making the length of ballots shorter and to reconsider extending the number of days of early voting.

Detzner’s report is due by Feb. 1.

Meanwhile, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, has filed a bill, Senate Bill 176, that would allow county elections supervisors to provide up to 14 hours of daily early voting, up from 12 currently allowed, and to add the Sunday prior to the election to the early voting period. 

House Bill 25, by Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, would restore early voting from the eight days in place now to the 14 days that were in place before this year, including the Sunday before Election Day. The bill also would allow nongovernment buildings to be used as early voting sites.

Online voting

For all the technological advances that have been made and proposed as fixes to Florida’s continual election problems, online voting may not be among them.

Elections supervisors called to testify Monday before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee proposed electronic signatures to replace the paper certification process as a means to speed up the voting process.

They also said that they are close to allowing online registration.

Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley dismissed any assertions that online voting, after it was used in New Jersey for communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy, could be implemented in Florida.

“I think for security reasons, we’re well far away from that one,” Corley said.

Corley pointed to a University of Michigan student who successfully took up a challenge to hack into a reportedly foolproof system the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics was testing for military and overseas voters. 

“They were able to delete voters, add voters, change votes,” Corley said. “They left a calling card. When the test period was over and you hit the ‘I voted’ button it played the University of Michigan fight song.”

Escambia County Supervisor of Elections David Stafford encouraged additional research being considered, particularly to improve voting for military personnel who now fax their ballots.

“If you can fax, why can’t you email a pdf?” Stafford said. “Eventually we’re going to get there.”

Stafford said online voting is an eventuality because younger generations are growing more accustomed to the technology. “We have to talk to them and relate to them on their level,” Stafford said.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

Comments (2)

12:32PM JAN 15TH 2013
Latvala: We're the Legislature, we exempted ourselves from ballot summaries . . . . and we want to continue masking our intent with multiple, complicated, long constitutional amendments . . . .
9:39AM JAN 15TH 2013
no reason the legislature should have to follow the same rules they impose on others. no can't have that. besides 75 words isn't enough to build a deceiving amendment.

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