Election experts and Democratic voting advocates told U.S. senators Friday that a Republican-backed overhaul of Florida election laws will suppress Democratic turnout in the nation's biggest battleground state next fall.
Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Dick Durbin of Illinois held a field hearing at the Hillsborough County Courthouse that drew a racially diverse crowd and at times resembled an orchestrated Democratic rally. In packed pews in a sixth-floor courtroom, people wore yellow stickers that read "Our voice, our vote" and hissed a witness who defended the law.
Testimony centered on the most controversial changes: reducing early voting from 14 days to eight, from 96 hours to a minimum of 48, and ending it on the Saturday before the election; requiring third-party groups to register and face fines if they turn in voter registration forms after 48 hours; and requiring voters to cast provisional ballots if they moved from another county since they last voted if they did not update their addresses.
The crowd erupted into loud applause when Durbin said: "There are people literally fighting and dying for the right to vote in countries like Syria, and we are finding ways to restrict the right to vote?"
Two county election supervisors, both Republicans, gave sharply contrasting views of the law.
Ann McFall of Volusia County criticized the law for not allowing more variety in early voting sites such as churches and she complained of being forced to "turn in" long-time friends and neighbors for turning in voter registration forms after 48 hours, including New Smyrna Beach teacher Jill Cicciarelli, who got a warning letter from the state.
"This is a bad law," said McFall, who predicted students at historically black Bethune Cookman College in Daytona Beach would be caught by the provisional ballot rule because of its traditionally high number of address changes on Election Day.