Partisan heat in Senate over election overhaul bill
(Senators Arthenia Joyner, D- Tampa, and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R- Miami, talk on the floor of the Senate during debate of an election overhall bill in the Senate, Wednesday. Republicans blocked a series of attempts to make changes to the bill. Scott Keeler, Times)
A controversial election overhaul bill reached the Senate floor Wednesday and Republicans blocked a series of Democratic attempts to make changes. The bill cuts early voting before an election from 14 days to eight, ending three days before the election. Republicans emphasized that despite fewer days, the total amount of early voting time is the same -- 96 hours.
"We don't want to dramatically reduce early voting," said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
Senators delayed floor debate and a final vote until Thursday.
The bill would only allow voters to update their addresses at the polls if they had moved within their home county. Current law allows any voter to make an address change at the polls. Democrats say the new restriction will hurt college students the most, but Republicans disagree.
"Most college students know where they're going to college, and most college students know where their hometown is," Gaetz said.
Among the Democrat-sponsored changes rejected by Republicans would restore 14 days of early voting, allow election supervisors to add more early voting locations, allow college students to update their addresses at the polls, and remove fines on third-party groups for late submission of voter forms. The bill (SB 2086) has drawn intense opposition from Democrats and groups that register voters, such as the League of Women Voters, who accuse the GOP of "voter suppression" tactics to boost the party's chances in 2012.
"We shouldn't mess with something our constituents wanted," said Sen. Maria Sachs (at left), D-Boca Raton, who argued to keep early voting the way it is.
Democrats also railed against a provision that would reduce the validity of voter signatures on iniative petitions from four years to two. "The citizens don't have a chance to get the amount of signatures in two years," said Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Coconut Grove.
It wasn't just Democrats who got steamrolled. Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, suggested an amendment abolishing leadership funds that will allow a single powerful legislator to solicit and control millions of dollars in special interest campaign contributions.