TBO.com: Tampa Bay Online, The Tampa Tribune and The Tampa Times - breaking news and weather.
Sunday, Oct 04, 2015

Tribune editorial: Scott, lawmakers confront election reform

TBO.com Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 08:40 AM

The governor and Republican lawmakers who passed election reforms two years ago are to be applauded for recognizing the law needs to be revised.

In passing the reforms, they never made a plausible case that voter fraud was threatening the integrity of the state's election process. Failing to do that left opponents of their reforms, and the public, to think the worst motive possible: partisan politics.  

By cutting down on early voting days, restricting the sites for early voting, and requiring provisional ballots for voters who changed addresses, the reforms seemed to target minorities and the young, voting blocks that tend to vote Democrat.

When long lines developed on Election Day and Florida was left to count ballots for several days beyond Nov. 6, it was only natural the anger and frustration would be directed at the lawmakers who passed — and the governor who signed  — the reforms.

State elections officials, and the authors of the reforms, point out that the long lines were confined to a handful of counties and not necessarily a result of the new laws. And they remain steadfast in defending their motives.

They say politics played no part in the reforms. But in the past few weeks the governor and key lawmakers have opened the door to revisiting the reforms.

The governor now says lawmakers should revisit the number of days set aside for early voting and the available sites for early voting.

Scott rightly wants to tackle the inordinate length of the ballots that voters must now confront. Other Republicans agree, and say they will consider revisions to the law that reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to eight, and that restricted early voting sites to public libraries and county offices.

Already, a Republican lawmaker from Miami has filed a bill to expand early voting, although it still would not allow as many days as previously allowed before the 2010 reforms.  

Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, has been tapped to head a committee to explore election laws. He told Tribune reporter William March that he wants laws that encourage voting at polling places rather than voting by absentee ballot, which can be a burden on local elections offices.

Latvala also thinks the length of the ballot last November — in large part a result of the 11 constitutional amendments — had a lot to do with frustrating delays in delivering the final results in some counties. He is right to single out the double standard afforded lawmakers in placing proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. Citizens who initiate proposals to amend the constitution are restricted by law to limiting their ballot summaries to 75 words.

The initiatives put forth by lawmakers are not limited in length, as voters who went to the polls Nov. 6 are so painfully aware.

While they're at it, committee members should explore restricting lawmakers to a single subject for each proposed amendment, rather than allowing them to load amendments with multiple questions. Remember Amendment 4? That required voters to wade through four separate property tax questions. Current law restricts citizen amendment initiatives to a single subject.     

Now that the flaws have been exposed, lawmakers have a chance to craft voting laws that are perceived by all as inclusive and that eliminate any whiff of partisan politics intruding upon one of our most sacred rights as citizens.  Within weeks of Florida's 2000 election debacle, Gov. Jeb Bush commissioned a panel to come up with reforms. Within months, unified lawmakers had passed dozens of reforms that helped modernize the election process in the nation's fourth-largest state. Let's hope this recent episode brings similar results.

Subscribe to The Tampa Tribune