Democrats didn’t hold back their disgust at a voter bill — or as some call it, a voter suppression bill — signed by Rick Scott on Thursday.
Florida Democratic Party Chairman Smith released this statement:
“Today is a tragic day for the Sunshine State, with Governor Rick Scott signing into law a bill that disenfranchises voters, makes it harder for Floridians to vote and limits access to the polls.
“Since Rick Scott’s own Republican Secretary of State, Kurt Browning, has repeatedly debunked the claims made by Republicans regarding any issues with Florida’s current elections law, Floridians should see that this bill is simply an attack on the voting rights of all Floridians.
“We are confident that this bill, which is nothing more than a power-grab by Republicans, will be overturned by the courts and rejected by the U.S. Justice Department.”
And Jacksonville State Rep. Mia Jones issued this statement:
“I am very disappointed that Governor Scott signed House Bill 1355, a controversial elections bill that will have a negative impact on all Floridians, including those who are currently participating in early voting in Miami-Dade County. This new law will undo much progress our state has made over the past 35 years toward encouraging full voter participation in elections. Ever since the 2000 presidential election, our state has strived to be a national model for other states to follow in ensuring that elections are handled fairly, that they are orderly, and that every vote is counted.
“I strongly reject the claims by supporters of this new law who suggest that this will reduce election fraud. Instead, I believe this new law will discourage and disenfranchise tens of thousands of Floridians from participating in the next election. This law forces college students and others who change their address when they vote to use a provisional ballot, which is simply unacceptable and will result in increased costs for our elections supervisors!
“I voted against this bill because it places too many roadblocks on those who cast ballots and how their votes are to be counted. It is unfortunate that the governor did not feel the same way and signed a law that will suppress voter participation.”
But it was Tallahassee City Commissioner Andrew Gillum, also the “youth and young professionals” chair of the state party, who swung the hardest:
“Not only did Governor Rick Scott just make it harder for Floridians to vote, he did so like a coward, without explanation and in private,” said Gillum. “This is an insult to the very foundation of our democracy and all of the hard working Floridians who make their voice heard through early voting and provisional ballots. Rick Scott just proved himself to be an enemy of open, transparent democracy.”
Key changes enacted by today’s bill signing (as reported by the Times):
Early voting is reduced from 15 days to eight days, but the total number of early voting hours will stay at 96; no additional early voting sites. Voters who have moved or changed their name since the last election can only update their status at the polls if they have moved within the same county. All others must cast provisional ballots. Third-party groups that register new voters must submit forms within 48 hours or face fines of up to $1,000. A nine-member panel will choose the date of Florida’s 2012 presidential preference primary to maximize the state’s influence in selecting the Republican nominee. The 2012 primary election will be on Aug. 14, two weeks earlier than usual
The change in the primary date and the panel regarding the primary overall have been overlooked elements of the election bill, which has been the subject of more than 10,000 calls and emails to the governor’s office, mostly urging him to veto the bill.
A lawsuit filed by a Miami Republican running for Miami-Dade mayor predicted the law would disenfranchise voters if implemented before Scott signed it but after voters had been notified of the early voting schedule. It was not clear late Thursday what would happen to that suit.
In signing the bill (with no fanfare) Thursday, Scott indicated the bill would help curtail “voter fraud.” But his secretary of state, Kurt Browning, seemed unwilling to back up that contention. Likewise, local supervisors of elections, including in Destin, refuted Republican claims that voter fraud was rampant in the state. According to the Miami Herald:
The bill wipes out a four-decade-old policy in Florida that allowed voters to update their legal address when they vote. Republicans call that an invitation to fraud, so the new law allows only voters who have moved within the same county to update their addresses.
Even Scott’s chief elections expert, Secretary of State Kurt Browning, would not say whether the change was a good idea.
“Not going there,” Browning said.
The legislation also allows Browning to impose written opinions on election supervisors, who are elected constitutional officers, and creates a nine-member panel of political appointees to choose the date of Florida’s next presidential preference primary.
The election legislation generated far more citizen opposition than any other bill of the 2011 session. Some opposition was engineered by the League of Women Voters, which has thousands of members in Florida.
Scott’s office reported 15,443 e-mails, calls and letters through May 12, and a notation by Scott’s staff said: “Majority oppose. Urging Governor to veto these bills because they change our voting laws, making it more difficult for some voters to cast their vote.”
Gainesville resident Joe T. (Tom) McCullough Jr. wrote Scott: “This is the most undemocratic, regressive, anti-voter, partisan proposal I have ever seen in my memory.”
Democrats, labor unions and voter advocacy groups have been up in arms for weeks, calling the bill a form of “voter suppression” designed to stifle turnout in Florida next year, especially among students. Democrats in Congress have asked the U.S. Justice Department to block the bill from taking effect.
While the bill reduces early voting from 15 days to eight, it still allows for up to 96 hours of early voting in all. Early voting was widely credited as a factor in Obama’s Florida victory in 2008.
Under the new law, election supervisors can run early voting sites for up to 12 hours a day. But their pleas for more early voting sites were ignored by the Legislature – and as a result, some supervisors predict longer lines than ever next year.
“(This) could result in crowding and confusion at early voting sites,” the association of election supervisors said in a memorandum to lawmakers.
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark said the longer early voting days would be more convenient for working people who can vote early before or after work.
Clark also said she would make sure her office would quickly retrieve voter registration forms from third-party groups so they would avoid being fined.
In highly mobile metropolitan Orlando, where Democratic voter registration is surging, Orange County Supervisor of Election Bill Cowles fears havoc next year because thousands of voters typically seek to vote after moving into his county from surrounding areas.
In 2008, Cowles said, about 8,000 county voters updated their addresses on Election Day and about 3,000 of them had moved to Orange from another county. Under the new law, those county-to-county voters will be restricted to casting provisional ballots.
“The average voter is not paying attention, and they will not pay attention until they’re hit with this on Election Day,” Cowles said. “Especially if they are one of the voters who moved from one county to the next.”
Cowles also said fears of voter fraud are unfounded because Florida has a highly accurate and reliable state-run voter registration database.
Every voter has a unique identifying number and a voter must show a photo ID before being given a ballot.
Republicans have been pursuing changes to voter laws all over the country, including in Wisconsin, where a controversial voter ID law passed as some Democrats refused to participate in the vote. Democrats believe Republicans in swing states are seeking ways to depress the number of young and minority voters — who tend to prefer Democrats — ahead of the 2012 presidential election.
Similar bills are also being pushed in Ohio, North Carolina, Maine and Texas.