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Eleven Florida lawmakers get subpoenas in election law case

TALLAHASSEE — Eleven state legislators have been hit with subpoenas in a federal lawsuit involving four controversial provisions of Florida's new election law.

The subpoenas to six senators and five representatives, all Republicans, were issued on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Florida and the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic voter advocacy group, by their attorney, Daniel O'Connor of the Washington, D.C., firm Bryan Cave LLP.

Both organizations have been working to prevent the U.S. government from approving the changes, which they say will disenfranchise voters and make it harder to register new voters in Florida headed into a critical 2012 presidential election.

The lawmakers, most of whom supported the legislation, are ordered to produce by Dec. 14 "all documents" related to the four major election law changes at issue in the case.

Those changes curtail early voting from 14 days to eight, reduce the shelf life of voter signatures on ballot initiative petitions from four years to two, require third-party groups to submit voter registration forms within 48 hours and require voters who update addresses at the polls to cast provisional ballots if they have moved from a different county.

The state initiated the lawsuit by asking a panel of three federal judges to "preclear," or approve, the changes as required by law to ensure that they do not discriminate against minority voters in Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee, Hendry and Monroe counties.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican and House sponsor of the elections bill (HB 1355), got his subpoena by email Tuesday. He has consistently said the law was necessary to reduce chances of voter fraud and improve public confidence in elections.

"I think we appropriately conducted ourselves to protect the elections process from mischief and mishap and make it credible to the public as to its results," Baxley said.

Baxley first presented the bill at a meeting of the House Government Operations Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, who also was subpoenaed.

"I wouldn't have any problem standing by my vote on it," Patronis said. He did recall that his hometown Bay County elections supervisor, Mark Andersen, had urged him not to reduce the days of early voting (the bill did keep the total number of early voting hours at 96).

"He told me how much the constituents love early voting," Patronis said.

Two lawmakers who received subpoenas voted against the bill: Sens. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

Fasano said he opposed HB 1355 because it undermined Florida's reputation as a state that made voting accessible.

"That bill took some of the accessibility away from the voter," Fasano said.

Besides Baxley and Patronis, other House members whose records are being sought are Reps. Keith Perry, R-Ocala; Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach; and Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, all of whom played key roles in the bill's passage.

Other senators who were subpoenaed are Sens. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton; Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale; Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami; and John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

In a memorandum filed with the three-judge panel in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, the League of Women Voters of Florida and the National Council of La Raza say they have suspended all voter registration efforts because of the law.

"Fewer early voting days and restrictions on casting a regular ballot are directly at odds with the League's mission to increase civic participation," the memorandum says.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

See the subpoena

Read a copy of the subpoena served to Rep. Dennis Baxley at links.tampabay.com.

Eleven Florida lawmakers get subpoenas in election law case 11/29/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 11:33am]
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