Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida Republicans push to cut early voting to single week

TALLAHASSEE — With Florida a crucial state in the 2012 presidential election, the state Legislature wants to overhaul election laws in ways critics say would help the Republican Party maintain its dominance.

The Senate is pushing a bill to cut early voting time by half, make it harder for grass roots groups to register voters and require people to vote provisionally if they moved since the last time they voted — a change elections supervisors say would affect college students the most. The bill, SB 2086, passed the Republican-controlled Rules Committee on Friday on a 10-2 vote.

Legislators say their goal is more convenient and less expensive voting machinery. But with President Barack Obama needing Florida's 29 electoral votes to win a second term, skeptics say the GOP-dominated Legislature is showing it has more than a passing interest in how the next election is run. All 160 legislative seats also will be up for grabs in 2012 because of reapportionment.

The 140-page Senate elections amendment was sponsored by Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who chairs the Rules Committee and is the immediate past chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, defended the bill as voter-friendly, noting that it makes it easier for voters to request absentee ballots. But the proposed changes drew fire from election supervisors as well as the League of Women Voters, which successfully sued the state to block a previous round of restrictions on third-party voter registration efforts.

"We would hope to avoid going back to court," said Ben Wilcox of the League of Women Voters. "We believe that citizens should be active, engaged, and informed participants in democracy."

The bill also would push back the primary election by one week to Sept. 4, the day after the three-day Labor Day weekend holiday. Supporters said the change is needed so that the election won't conflict with the Republican National Convention in Tampa, scheduled the previous week. Moving the primary would allow fundraising to continue during the GOP convention.

The bill would force voters who do not go to the correct precincts to cast provisional ballots — which are only counted in some cases. Since 1973, Florida has allowed voters to update their address at a polling place.

Elections supervisors oppose a provision that allows Secretary of State Kurt Browning, an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott, to issue written orders to supervisors, who are elected constitutional officers.

But what drew the most heat Friday was the Senate's insistence that early voting be curtailed from two weeks to one. A surge in early voting was widely cited as a major factor in Obama's 2008 victory in Florida, and then-Gov. Charlie Crist extended early voting hours because of long lines at early voting centers.

"Generally, early voting in Miami-Dade County has not been very efficient," Diaz de la Portilla said. "What you see more often than not is that there is a trickle of two or three people a day at a very high cost to keep those public libraries and polls open. … We felt it was an efficiency measure."

Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Aventura, said the crush of early voters in the last presidential election showed that two weeks of early voting is not enough. She called the bill a "Machiavellian" act by Republicans.

"It will disenfranchise and really anger a lot of people who are standing in line," Margolis said. "I just think that it's a very, very bad thing to do."

Diaz de la Portilla called the criticism "offensive, unfair and I think it's plain wrong."

Margolis and Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, cast the only votes against the bill. A third Democrat, Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando, voted yes. Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, voted yes, after criticizing the idea of moving the primary to the day after Labor Day, warning it will complicate planning by elections officials.

The state Division of Elections said nearly one of every five people who voted in the 2010 general election voted at an early voting site, about the same number as cast absentee ballots.

Friday's developments came a day after the House advanced its own controversial election bill, HB 1355, which also imposes new registration requirements and time limits on third-party voter registration drives that do not also apply to political parties.

The Florida Democratic Party said in a statement from executive director Scott Arceneaux the past two statewide elections have gone smoothly and there's no need for major changes.

"The only thing the Republicans are doing with this bill is trying to game the system to help Republicans," he said.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

About 1.3 million people cast absentee ballots in the November 2010 general election, about the same number as voted early. The year of the election and the comparison between absentee and early voters were incorrect in a story Saturday.

.Fast facts

Early voting

In the November 2010 general election, nearly one of five voters voted at an early voting site.

Election Day 3.1 million

Absentee 1.3 million

Early voting 1.1 million

Total 5.5 million

Source: Florida Department of State

Florida Republicans push to cut early voting to single week 04/15/11 [Last modified: Monday, April 18, 2011 6:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Buddy Brew Coffee to open downtown Tampa location


    TAMPA — Buddy Brew Coffee plans to open a new location in downtown Tampa at Park Tower. The specialty coffee craft roaster, which was founded in 2010, has five other locations throughout Tampa including the Oxford Exchange, Sarasota, Hyde Park Village and Terminal F inside the Tampa International Airport.

    A cappuccino is displayed at Buddy Brew in Tampa in January 2017. [CHARLIE KAIJO | Times]
  2. What you might have missed in the second episode of the Bucs on 'Hard Knocks'


    We're back for another episode of The Annotated Hard Knocks, trying to find behind-the-scenes insights and things you might have missed in Tuesday's second episode of "Hard Knocks," following the Bucs in …

    As the crowd recognized him and got loud, Jameis Winston jumped up and down in celebration. [GREG AUMAN | Times]
  3. Review: 'The Defenders' brings out the best in Marvel's unlikeliest heroes


    The ties that bind Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist run deep. But they're just starting to figure all that out in The Defenders.

    Mike Colter, Scott Glenn, Finn Jones, Krysten Ritter and Charlie Cox in The Defenders.
  4. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson can't keep 'The Hitman's Bodyguard' on-target


    The Hitman's Bodyguard is an assault tank on semi-automatic pilot, spraying jokes and bullets with only the ammo consistently hitting its targets. The irresistible teaming of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson might be even funnier if they missed once in a while.

    Samuel L. Jackson, left, and Ryan Reynolds star in "The Hitman's Bodyguard." (Lionsgate)
  5. Hillsborough leaders ask for patience as multiple schools still suffer from broken air conditioners


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins and his facilities chief appealed to parents Wednesday to be patient as the district works through chronic air conditioning problems — and to advocate for more state funding.

    Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins says air conditioning problems at multiple schools are a "major concern" for the district. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |  Times]