TALLAHASSEE — Republican senators blocked a series of Democratic attempts Wednesday to make changes to a controversial election overhaul bill.
Among the rejections were proposals to maintain 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.
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, D-Boca Raton, who argued to keep early voting the way it is.
The bill cuts early voting 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.
Democrats also railed against a provision that would reduce the validity of voter signatures on initiative 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 steamrollered.
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. It was voted down.
In all, 16 Democratic-sponsored amendments were rejected. Senators delayed floor debate and a final vote until today.
The 154-page Senate bill now differs from the House version passed two weeks ago mainly on early voting, as the House keeps it at 14 days. Some election supervisors say fewer days of early voting in 12-hour stretches will lead to higher overtime costs.
The two chambers have agreed to shift the date of the nonpresidential 2012 primary to Aug. 14, two weeks earlier than currently scheduled, where it conflicted with the Republican National Convention in Tampa. They also agreed to create a nine-member commission to select the date of Florida's 2012 presidential primary.