One thumb up for the new elections reform law that substantially returns Florida’s voting system to pre-2012-debacle levels and even adds some beneficial tweaks.
The bill was approved by the Legislature late last week after one controversial passage was withdrawn at the insistence of House Democrats. That provision — a restriction on people assisting the disabled and those who don’t speak English well — deserved its place on the chopping block. Another amendment passed by the Senate but rejected by the House would have given the state authority to discipline elections supervisors who failed to comply with the law’s provisions. Constitutional questions aside, that might have held supervisors’ feet to the fire. Not a bad idea.
Gov. Rick Scott has promised to sign the bill. Among its provisions:
• The law would give supervisors discretion to schedule early voting between eight days (and eight hours per day) and 14 days (and 12 hours per day). It would bring back the possibility of voting on Sunday before Election Day.
This is a big step above the 2011 law that cut early voting to eight days, six-to-eight hours per day. That meant supervisors could keep polls open between 48 and 96 hours. Shortened early voting received much of the blame for the long lines of voters left waiting to cast ballots last November in many parts of the state.
The new law will allow for 64-168 hours of early voting. It’s a healthy improvement, assuming supervisors use their discretion wisely and err toward the maximum, which we think is likely given likely public pressure and the national humiliation of 2012. This hasn’t been a problem here; in fact, the experience with the November election in Charlotte and Sarasota was excellent.
While we preferred a 14-day requirement, this law allows for more flexibility. That’s entirely appropriate in off-elections, when the turnout is dismal.
• The new law also gives supervisors more latitude with early voting sites. Right now, voting can take place only at elections offices, city halls and libraries. In the future, they will be able to set up at civic centers and community centers, as well as stadiums and fairgrounds.
More flexibility allows supervisors to put polls where the demand is expected to be greatest.
• Another provision corrects something cited by supervisors as a major cause for the 2012 snafu: the length of ballot.
Last November, the Legislature put 11 constitutional amendments up for vote. Some amendment summaries were extremely long and difficult to digest. While it doesn’t address the number of amendments, the new law does limit summaries to 75 words. A plus.
Overall, the measure could have been stronger. Still, it certainly is a reasonable step toward restoring the integrity of the state’s voting system following the embarrassment of 2012.