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Groups blast 'voter suppression' in election bill

A parade of witnesses bombarded the House with criticism of the latest rewrite of the election laws, but the legislation passed on a party-line 12-6 vote in the State Affairs Committee on Thursday. The latest, 151-page version, by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, makes a lot of new changes to the election laws that he says are needed to bring more "order" and "legitimacy" to elections.

They include reducing from 10 days to two the time third-party groups have to submit voter registration forms to elections offices; requiring people who show up to vote at a precinct outside their county of registration to file provisional ballots; and reducing from four years to two the shelf life of voters' signatures on citizen initiative petitions.

Since 1973, Florida has allowed voters who move, marry or change their names to update the information at a polling place, but Baxley said it's too easy for voters to do that. "When you leave all this stuff open, you leave it open to abuse," he said. 

Everyone who testified on HB 1355 spoke in opposition, including the Florida AFL-CIO, the ACLU of Florida, the Communications Workers of America, and the League of Women Voters, whose lobbyist Ben Wilcox called the bill "good old-fashioned voter suppression."

David Stafford, election supervisor in Escambia County, cautioned lawmakers not to expand the pool of provisional voters: "The more people you have voting provisionally at a polling place, the more disruption you're going to have," he said. 

-- Steve Bousquet