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Monday, April 18, 2011

A solution without a problem, how the Florida Legislature plans to steal elections

From the Fine Print

by Gary Fineout

A major elections bill that is now headed to the House floor came under fire for the way it changes rules for voter registration groups and how it changes law regarding voter address changes.

Critics charged that it was a "voter suppression" bill.

But the legislation - HB 1355 - has several other major provisions that didn't get much attention.

The sprawling 151-page amendment that was adopted by a House panel on Thursday also does this:

* It changes next year's primary date back to Aug. 14, which means the election won't clash anymore with the date of the Republican National Convention. The current date for the primary is Aug. 28.

* It creates a new fundraising opportunity for people who thinking about jumping into a race. Under the legislation people who are "testing the waters" could start raising money that they could use to pay for polls, travel and telephone calls. It would appear by the wording that a person doesn't have to report these contributions or expenditures unless they eventually become a candidate. The language is written in a way to suggest that the total amount of funding that can be raised would be $10,000, but it's not exactly clear.

* It includes a provision that could lead to more legal challenges against candidates. Basically the bill states that if a judge throws a candidate off the ballot because they were not properly qualified a political party cannot put someone else on the ballot in their place.

* There's some new provisions related to minor parties that could have been inspired by the Republican Party smackdown with the Tea Party last year. In case you don't remember, a group registered the name with the state and put in candidates in several legislative races. Republicans cried foul over some of the candidates and tried to remove them from the ballot. There was also a back and forth from other Tea Party groups contending that the Tea Party registered with the state had nothing to do with real Tea Party activists. Anyway, the new requirements for minor parties contain a provision that if they are not carried out promptly that the state can then decertify the party.

* It tinkers again with the laws regarding third-party groups known as electioneeering communication organizations or 527s in such a way that it would allow them to remain in the shadows longer. The groups would not have to register with the state until they spend at least $5,000 either 30 days before the primary or 60 days before the general election. The law now says that the group must file it is raises money or spends money in that same time frame.

A Senate version of this legislation is scheduled to be considered on Friday morning.

It does have differences. For example, the Senate bill moves the primary date to Sept. 4. The Senate measure also does not include the "testing the waters" provision. Instead the Senate bill includes language that says that political parties, 527s and those new "affiliated party committees" or leadership funds can conduct polls to determine the "viability" of future candidates. Those poll results can be shared with the potential candidate and it will not be considered a contribution.

The Senate bill also cuts down on the period of early voting. Instead of starting 15 days before the election it would begin 7 days. This change is sure to draw fire from many Democrats since the perception is that Republicans rely on absentee ballots, while Democrats utilize early voting.

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