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Early support in Florida Senate for expanding early voting

TALLAHASSEE — More than two months after Florida's election system drew national scorn for its long lines and tardy vote tabulation, state lawmakers said Monday they supported reforms in hopes to avoid a repeat performance.

During five hours of Senate hearings, lawmakers voiced measured support for a series of proposed changes, including expanding the number of early voting days from eight to up to 14 days, giving local elections offices more flexibility in choosing early polling sites and limiting the length of ballot amendment summaries to 75 words.

The recommendations were made by Florida election supervisors, who blamed long lines in some of the bigger counties on a ballot overstuffed with 11 proposed amendments that were passed by state lawmakers. Ten supervisors, including Penelope Townsley of Miami-Dade and Susan Bucher of Palm Beach, urged lawmakers to make the changes.

Although senators spent much of the hearing avoiding a discussion of the role they played in reducing the number of early voting days and passing the verbose amendments, they did acknowledge they were open to change.

"The Senate has gotten the message on the length of the ballot," said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. "I was probably part of the problem as far as the language that appears on the ballot. If 75 words is the way to go, we should do that. And going from eight to 14 days of early voting? I don't have a problem with that."

The chairman of the Ethics & Elections Committee, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said he will seek bipartisan support of a reform bill that could debut in early February. Unlike Thrasher, Latvala said he may not support restricting ballot language for lawmakers.

But Latvala did say he would consider imposing new rules on voting by mail. Last month, a Miami-Dade grand jury determined voting by mail was susceptible to fraud and recommended new restrictions, such as requiring that someone 18-or-older witness those who fill out an mail-in ballot and making it a third degree felony to possess more than two absentee ballots.

The supervisors are scheduled to present the same recommendations to a House panel on Tuesday.

Contact Michael Van Sickler at (850) 224-7263 or mvansickler@tampabay.com.

Early support in Florida Senate for expanding early voting 01/14/13 [Last modified: Monday, January 14, 2013 10:40pm]
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