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Editorial 624

Missy Layfield - Editor

Down the Rabbit Hole

For those of us who watch election law and state government, this week has had some of us wondering if we’d fallen down a rabbit hole when Governor Rick Scott backpedaled on the 2011 Election law that he proudly signed in 2011. Then Scott suggested raising teacher pay.

In May 2011, the Florida legislature passed House Bill 1355.Governor Rick Scott signed the bill into law within a month and Florida joined the cavalcade of states tilting at the invisible windmill of election fraud. Not that there isn’t any election fraud-there is always someone breaking any given law. There just isn’t any proof that it is or was a serious problem. Certainly not serious enough for several states to start tinkering with their election laws risking disenfranchising thousands of voters.

In Florida, the 2011 election law, cut early voting days from 14 to 8, eliminated the Sunday before Election Day as an early voting day and placed strict rules and timelines on those helping register voters.

There was an immediate cry of foul by many groups whose sole focus is on encouraging voting by everyone.

Several groups stopped voter registration drives rather than risk violating the law requiring registration of anyone helping to collect registration forms. They didn’t want their volunteers to risk the penalties if you failed to turn in the forms within 48 hours. Two teachers in Florida were charged under the law.

Several courtroom challenges later, the part of the 2011 election law that restricted community-based voter registration drives was blocked by a federal judge saying the law violated the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

That left the shortened early voting days standing.

When lines appeared in many counties on early voting days, there was a call to expand the days or hours available to vote. No response from the Governor.

When Election Day lines kept voters in line for hours and hours, the Governor said he was glad that so many voters wanted to have their voices heard.

The people of Florida were outraged at the botched election. Florida was once again the punch line for late night comedy, but it was weeks before Governor Scott was ready to address the election snafu. And even longer before he was ready to admit that the 2011 Florida election law played a major role in the botched election.

What is a botched election?One where registered voters are ready, willing and able to vote, but are unable to due to long lines. Registered voters had to walk away from the polls on Election Day when their health or their schedule did not allow them the luxury of standing in line for upwards of 3-4 hours. You can talk about what a privilege it is to vote and you’d do anything to exercise that privilege, but the fact remains that not everyone is physically able to stand in line for hours. Having never needed to stand in line for hours before, they didn’t know to ask for an absentee ballot.

There should not be a physical fitness test to vote, yet there was this year in Lee County.

This week, Governor Scott said he would support extending early voting to a maximum of 14 days, including the Sunday before Election Day, a popular day for black voters. He also now supports the expansion of early voting locations and limiting the length of amendment descriptions.

All these things were on Lee County Elections Supervisor Sharon Harrington’s wish list. She was the focus of much anger after the November election. While her decision to limit most polling places to one tabulating machine was a major error for which she is responsible, the shortened early voting schedule, limited locations allowable for early voting and long-winded amendments on the ballot all contributed to the problems experienced by Lee County voters.

Harrington has pledged to increase the number of voting machines in precincts across the county.Now the Governor has pledged his support of a new election law to address these other factors in the voting equation.

How much simpler might our November election have been had the Legislature been able to resist tampering with Florida Election law?

The Florida Legislature is predominantly Republican. We have a Republican governor. Sometimes it seems as if they pass laws not because they address a real problem or a need in the state, but just because they can.

The 2011 Election law seems to be one of those.

Let’s see if they are willing to undo the damage they did in 2011 when they begin their 2013 session in March. Let’s see if the Legislature has had the same change of heart as the Governor.

Missy Layfield