Susan Bucher: Charlie Crist-Backed Election Reform Legislation Already 'Dead’
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Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said Wednesday unless the state opens up new early voting venues, South Florida voters will continue to face the prospect of long lines when casting a ballot.
But Bucher, a Democrat and former legislator -- called one of Election 2012's most mistake-prone supervisors -- said Republican lawmakers are not going to back at least one bill already filed to overturn the 2011 election changes because former governor and newborn Democrat Charlie Crist is behind the proposal.
“That's dead," she said of the Democrat-backed election reform measure, after what was called a "productive" meeting with Secretary of State Ken Detzner and a team of six from his office who are touring the state's most troubled elections offices this week.
Last month, Florida Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, was joined by Crist in Tampa to announce his plans to reverse Republican election measures introduced in 2011.
In her Palm Beach County supervisor of elections office Wednesday, Bucher did speak positively of a productive meeting earlier in the day with Detzner on problems that transpired on her turf during the general election, from people waiting up to four hours, to software difficulties due to the length of amendments, to unnoticed printing mistakes on ballots.
“Having 40 percent of the population in South Florida, we’re going to have longer lines than anybody else, and so what’s holding us up is the constraints of the law,” Bucher said.
Bucher said she hadn’t heard that state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, Ethics and Elections Committee chairman, had suggested the Legislature could consider removing supervisors in the most troubled counties.
But she believes election supervisors will be able to work with legislators to slowly make changes they have requested, from limiting the number of words in constitutional amendments to expanding early voting beyond city halls and public libraries.
And she hopes that changes can be made before the next presidential election, as early voting will continue to grow in popularity.
She doesn’t expect legislators who backed the changes in 2011 to simply overturn those rules.
Bucher's complaint that the state is tying her hands is similar to what Detzner has heard this week as he and a team of six from his office travel to Florida’s most problem-plagued counties from the state’s nationally derided recent general election.
Topped by 11 state constitutional amendments and dominated by state and federal contests, several counties required to print ballots in multiple languages ended up with multiple-page ballots that had to be filled out and individually run through tabulation machines by each voter.
Detzner said Wednesday he’s been encouraged by the response from supervisors during his tour of counties, where people had to wait in lines up to and surpassing four hours during early voting and on Election Day.
But he isn’t tipping his hand as to what he’s taking away from visits to the supervisors in Lee, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties that will be part of a report to the governor late next month.
“This isn’t 2000 all over again,” Detzner said. “This is finding specific solutions to specific problems.”
But while that has been a clear consensus from supervisors, Detzner said it doesn’t address every issue as counties had some of their own individual glitches, from Palm Beach County sending out hundreds of absentee ballots that didn’t properly identify judicial contests to St. Lucie County making mistakes in tabulating early-vote ballots.
“I’m getting closer to central ideas and themes,” Detzner said. “Until I’m finished with my investigation and debrief with my staff, I’m kind of holding back on making any final conclusions.”
After what he called a “candid” meeting with Bucher and members of her staff on Wednesday, he said his office will look into her suggestion that printers of ballots be certified, as are manufacturers of tabulation machines.
Bucher said properly printed ballots that can be tabulated should be just as important as regulated voting equipment.
“We’re on our third printer in four years and none have worked out well for us,” Bucher said. “This last printer committed a substantial error that cost us a lot of time and effort and there is no regulation on printing a ballot.”
Detzner and six members of his staff will travel Thursday to St. Lucie County and visit smaller counties next week that didn’t have problems reported.
Detzner has told legislators that 62 of the state’s 67 counties performed adequately during the general election, and all but one -- St. Lucie County -- completed the counting process on time.
Detzner said each county so far has been well-prepared.
“Broward did a very good job of bringing documentation, data to us,” Detzner said. “Data is a big part of the planning for any election.”
On Tuesday, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley offered three suggestions for improving the election process that would need state legislative approval:
- Extend the number of early voting days.
- Expand locations for early voting sites beyond public libraries and city halls.
- Cap the number of words legislators are allowed to put into their own constitutional amendment questions.
In the case of extending the early voting days, the Legislature would have to reverse state law made two years ago that cut the number of days available for early voting from 14 to eight, without cutting the number of hours a supervisor could conduct early voting.
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.