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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Florida legislature in the election fixing game

From the Miami Heralds editorial page

A decade after the Sunshine State earned the moniker Flori-duh for those indiscernible hanging chads used in the old punch-card ballots during the 2000 presidential election, some legislators in Tallahassee seem to want to take us back to that confusing and divisive time. As if Florida doesn’t have enough problems already.

On Thursday, the House State Affairs Committee will take up legislation, HB 1355, drafted by the office of House Speaker Dean Cannon and introduced into committee by Rep. Dennis Baxley, that’s supposed to strengthen Florida’s election laws. In fact, the 128-page bill would undo some of the sensible reforms imposed after the 2000 election debacle and adds a plethora of requirements that would tie the hands of independently elected elections supervisors, disenfranchise voters, dissuade volunteers from engaging in voter registration and discourage many voters’ participation on Election Day.

Among the bill’s onerous requirements:

• A newly married woman wanting to vote on Election Day would no longer be allowed to show elections officials at the polls documentation with her name change to vote on that day. Instead, she would be forced to use a provisional ballot, which likely will mean that vote won’t be counted. In 2008, half the provisional ballots in Florida were thrown out, making it hard to contest.

• Voter-registration groups would have to register all their volunteers and paid staff with the state’s Division of Supervisors of Elections, which would create a database. What’s the purpose? Harassment of volunteers or particular organizations?

• Volunteers, who now can help resolve legal issues for individual voters at the polls, would be restricted because the bill lumps “legal advice” into the definition of solicitation and prohibits it within 100 feet of a voting line.

• Any voter who has moved and shows up at a polling site with evidence of the new address would also be forced to use a provisional ballot even though county elections supervisors now have access to a statewide voter database, created back in 2003, that can easily confirm a voter’s change of name or address. This would potentially disenfranchise thousands of college students.

This bill reeks of partisanship. Why?

One theory: Mr. Cannon wants to limit students’ participation in the voting process — as volunteers and as voters. That may be because his district includes the University of Central Florida, and College Democrats at UCF registered almost 11,000 voters in 2008 when Barack Obama won Florida.

The legislation also potentially would restrict the ability of news media and bloggers to take video or audio of voters at polling places, whether during early voting days or on the final Election Day.

As the ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Jeff Clemens, noted, “The language in this elections bill seems to place a presumption of guilt on the voters.”

Indeed, at a time when technology has made voting easier and more transparent, when databases have been established for easy and exact access to voters’ information to combat fraud, this bill sets up obstacles reminiscent of Jim Crow.

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