Crist hints at vetoing bill to rewrite Florida election laws

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday strongly hinted that he would veto a proposed rewrite of Florida's election laws as a broad array of grass-roots groups launched an all-out assault on the legislation.

"What is it we're trying to cure?" Crist asked in a Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau interview. "The more opportunity you give people to vote, the better it is for democracy. So that aspect of it concerns me."

The Republican-sponsored bill would eliminate two forms of voter ID used mainly by older voters — cards issued by neighborhood associations and retirement centers.

The measure (SB 956) also would require all paid petition circulators to register with the state, and would require any voter whose address changes less than 29 days before an election to cast a provisional ballot. Those voters can now update their addresses at the polls when they vote.

"It always seems to me that when there may be legislation that attempts to sort of make it harder for people to do something — the people we work for — generally that's not good," Crist said. "I don't look on that in a favorable light and that is true of this particular part of this legislation." Asked if he would veto it, Crist said: "I don't like to use the V word … but I'm not fond of that provision. It concerns me."

Crist signed an executive order last fall extending the hours of early voting in a high-turnout presidential election in which Democrat Barack Obama won Florida's 27 electoral votes — the first Democrat to win Florida since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

The 80-plus page proposed rewrite of the election code, which surfaced for the first time last week, says nothing about early voting, however. A Senate committee limited public testimony to about 10 minutes, and a House council shut down debate after only six minutes and denied several people the chance to testify in public.

"This ridiculous bill surfaced in the dead of night with no attempt to really discuss, question or debate what was going on," said Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who served as elections supervisor for Hillsborough County for 10 years, also fired off a letter to Gov. Charlie Crist, urging him to veto the elections bill. She said the current legislative action reflects an "arrogance that is offensive to all who care about good government."

Among the public interest groups calling for defeat of the bill Monday were the League of Women Voters, AARP, AFL-CIO, NAACP, Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities and Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition. Joining them at a news conference were more than a dozen legislators, all of them Democrats, who cited a critical editorial in Sunday's New York Times.

"I look at it as group of folks who do not want to accept the fact that a Democratic president won the election in Florida," said Rep. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville. "That is the bottom line. Get over it. … It's not fair to punish people because you lost."

The bill's sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, a political consultant, said his bill is necessary to crack down on voter fraud. "We have to make sure that every vote is protected," he said. "Every time you allow an illegal vote, you're disenfranchising legal votes."

The bill also would make it a crime for anyone to solicit or interact with voters within 100 feet lined outside polling sites, including nonpartisan volunteers who are available on Election Day to inform voters of their rights. Thousands of lawyers fanned out across polling precincts last fall as part of a Democratic effort to ensure that voters were not discouraged from voting.

"Our state faces the most dramatic budget crisis in recent memory and lawmakers are fast-tracking a bill loaded with costs that will discourage voter participation?" said Brad Ashwell, spokesman for Florida Public Interest Research Group.

Times/Herald staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report, and information from the Associated Press was used.

Crist hints at vetoing bill to rewrite Florida election laws 04/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 21, 2009 3:38pm]

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