Changes to Florida Voting Laws 5 - The Reversal: Governor Scott Signs New Bill to Extend Early Voting

In late April 2013 in a complete reversal of the previous policy the Florida Legislature passed a bill to extend early voting times as well as expanding the amount of polling places. This legislation was passed after Governor Rick Scott commented in January that he had three goals aimed at fixing Florida's voting laws that became an embarrassment for the state during the 2012 National election. "There were inefficiencies in the 2012 General Election …and our system needed to be corrected… I asked the Legislature to enhance our system of elections and they met the challenge," the Governor commented. The issues Scott was referring to boiled down to an increase of early voting days and hours, as well as the institution of more early voting places as well as shorter, easier to complete ballots.

In a landslide 115-1 vote in the State House and then a 27-13 vote in the Senate, the bill was signed into law by Scott immediately following the weekend. The House initially approved the bill on the first day of its session and eventually got through the Legislature after a number of changes were made. Language was stripped from the bill that would have allowed the secretary of state to send a notice of non-compliance to elections supervisors and dock their pay $2,000 if they didn't report results on time or failed to follow other legal requirements.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel commented "I'm so proud of this House and this Legislature for passing great elections reform." "We all took a lot of flak all over the nation for some of the problems we had in the election last year and we were the butt of jokes on late night TV and we were the butt of a lot of criticism," commented State Senator Jack Latvala, another Republican from Palm Harbor.

Speaking for most Democrat's outlook, Darryl Rouson, a Representative from St. Petersburg said "We saw what happened in the November elections and as a body we have come back this year to correct it… While some of us feel like the bill still hasn't gone far enough ... at least we made some steps, some solid steps."

The new law reinstates the longer voting day period which was approximately cut in half by 2011's modified election laws when Governor Scott signed a bill that cut early voting days from fifteen days to eight and cut voting on the Sunday before the election entirely.

Election supervisors will now have to hold a minimum of eight early voting days, but are allowed to hold up to fourteen, including the Sundays that were previously excluded in 2011. The reinstatement of voting on Sundays are significant as that day has been known to be when many black churches had established an organized voter drive tagged "souls to the polls". Due to the blocking of Sunday voting in the 2012 National election many minorities were said not to have had the opportunity to vote. Florida accounts for 29 of the 270 votes in the Electoral College a candidate needs to win the presidency. That is more than any other swing state

Supervisors of elections are also now given more preferences of where early voting can be held.  Convention, Civic, Community and Senior Citizen Centers, as well as fairgrounds, have been added to the list of prospective sites.

The law now also necessitates a ballot summary on any constitutional amendments suggested by the legislature to be a maximum of seventy-five words. This limit can only be surpassed if the language of an amendment is rejected by the state Supreme Court allowing it to then be revised. In 2011, the Legislature encumbered the ballot with many questions and issues that were calculated to draw out a more conservative constituency. A long ballot that included eleven extensive constitutional amendments was a leading reason for the long lines due to the amount of time each voter had to spend completing them.

Also written into the law is the accountability of election equipment vendors being held liable for problems faced with voting machines that were reported to be defective or failed. Not reporting or failing to correct any issues with the equipment could result in the vendor being fined $25,000.

Elections supervisors must also post their election preparation policies on the Internet ninety days before the general election, among other provisions written into the law.

This new law should alleviate most of the major problems Florida faced during the last general election. Statistics reveled that at least 200,000 individuals gave up their right to vote that year after maddening long lines caused them to opt out, based on findings by The Orlando Sentinel. Data collected by the newspaper was analyzed by Theodore Allen, a professor at Ohio State University. Founded on his preliminary conclusion, the publication's analysis of polling place closing times and voter patterns in the State's twenty-five principal counties caused a drop of 2.3 percent of the turnout from the previous election. Those twenty-five counties encompass well over eighty percent of the Florida's almost twelve-million registered voters.

Leon County elections supervisor Ion Sancho called the bill "the best piece of elections legislation coming out of the Florida Legislature in the last decade." League of Women Voters of Florida President Deirdre Macnab hailed the reforms, saying "it will go a long way in repairing the damage done by the 2011 voter suppression bill." She conceded, however, that persuading lawmakers to pass HB 7013 was not easy, adding that "sometimes it felt like climbing a mountain with concrete boots" and she urged the public to "stay vigilant to ensure that our elections system does not slide backwards."

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