Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Proposed Florida voting changes stoke new concerns

Say the words "fraud," "Miami" and "grand jury" in the same breath, and you're going to get people's attention in Tallahassee.

Especially when the subject is voting.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Kathy Fernandez Rundle wants the Legislature to reinstate an old Florida law requiring voters to obtain a witness signature from someone 18 or older in order to cast an absentee ballot.

It's one of 23 recommendations from a Dade grand jury that investigated the practice of absentee ballot brokering in last year's primary election.

The witness requirement, enacted after a 1998 absentee voting scandal in Miami, was wiped off the books in 2004. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, revives the requirement in SB 600, saying the prosecutor lobbied him to do so. (Witnesses' signatures would not have to be verified.)

With the voting bill set for Senate floor debate today, county election supervisors think the witness-signature requirement is a terrible idea. They fear it would disenfranchise voters — especially military personnel.

Thousands of absentees were rejected in Florida last fall because voters neglected to sign their ballots' outside envelope or because a signature on the envelope did not match the voter's signature on file. Requiring a witness signature would make things worse, supervisors say.

Mike Bennett, supervisor of elections in Manatee County and a former Republican senator, said he doesn't think the provision can survive. "I really think that will come out (of the bill)," he said, "because there's been such a pushback from the supervisors."

Bennett said he has lobbied against the witness provision with Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, who chairs the House Ethics & Elections Subcommittee — and who so far isn't inclined to put the witness language in the House bill.

The provision could be trade bait, meaning senators could dangle it before the House in exchange for another portion of the bill. "It might ... give us a little flexibility," Latvala told senators.

Latvala's bill has another section that's causing a different kind of controversy: limiting the assistance someone can provide to a voter.

At the urging of former Republican Rep. J.C. Planas of Miami, a lawyer who handles election law cases, the Senate bill says no one can provide assistance at the polls to more than 10 people a day. In all cases, the bill says, the helper must already personally know the voter. Planas said he saw volunteers working for candidates hanging out at Miami-Dade precincts, offering to help total strangers fill out their ballots. "You shouldn't assist strangers," Planas said.

But Florida New Majority, a Miami group that helps immigrants, unions and the poor, and which worked for President Barack Obama's re-election, opposes the change, saying it would target non-English speaking voters. When Latvala offered the change last week, Democrats voted no, saying it goes too far.

Gihan Perera, director of Florida New Majority, launched an email blitz to members Monday, urging that "imposing an arbitrary limit on how many people assisters may help and requiring them to know the voter before that day curbs essential efforts to help voters understand the ballot and is wrong."

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Proposed Florida voting changes stoke new concerns 04/15/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 15, 2013 9:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Another Hollywood nursing home resident dies. It's the 9th in post-Irma tragedy.

    State Roundup

    The Broward County Medical Examiner's office is investigating another death of a resident of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills — the ninth blamed on the failure of a cooling system that became a stifling deathtrap three days after Irma hit.

    Carlos Canal, pictured at 47 years old, came to Miami from Cuba in 1960. Above is his citizenship photo. [Courtesy of Lily Schwartz]
  2. Hurricane Maria's winds hit 175 mph as it aims at Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands

    Hurricanes

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Maria barreled toward Puerto Rico on Tuesday night after wreaking widespread devastation on Dominica and leaving the small Caribbean island virtually incommunicado. …

    A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. Hillsborough School Board approves 2017-18 budget

    K12

    TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday approved a budget of $2.83 billion for the 2017-18 school year.

    Photo illustration. [iStockphoto.com]
  4. All Eyes photo gallery: 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 79, collapses buildings in Mexico

    World

    A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 79 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped. The quake came less than two weeks after another quake left 90 dead in the country's south, and it …

    Rescuers work on a collapsed building on Amsterdam Avenue in the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck, Sept. 19, 2017. Dozens have been reported killed across the country, including 42 in the state of Morelos, close to the epicenter of the quake, and at least 20 buildings in Mexico City have collapsed. (Adriana Zehbrauskas/The New York Times) XNYT169
  5. Rays video tribute to ex-manager Joe Maddon upon return with Cubs

    Blogs

    Here is the Rays video tribute to former manager Joe Maddon, who returned to the Trop for the first time on Tuesday with his Cubs team: