Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Opinion

Column: Florida on verge of a better voting system

Let's hope we can finally close the book on long lines, long ballots and partisan manipulation of our voting laws in Florida. Let's make sure the Legislature delivers an A-plus plan for election reform.

Many of our problems stemmed from the election law passed by the Legislature in 2011, which cut early voting days, changed laws that govern ballot language, and set up new ways to slow the casting of regular ballots. To their credit, House and Senate members have been busy this session working to remedy the situation.

Credit goes to Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and to Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, for their willingness to listen to testimony, ask probing questions and address the needs of voters and poll workers on the front lines. We applaud their tenacity and efforts to reach bipartisan solutions.

Under Latvala's leadership, Florida is well on its way toward a good election reform law of which we can all be proud. But the work is far from finished this session. Things could slip unless citizens stay vigilant.

And there is one glaring issue that has yet to be addressed by the lead election reform bill (SB 600): the ability to make sure your voter registration is permanent and valid no matter where you move around the state — its "portability." For almost 40 years voters have been able to move all across our state and cast a regular ballot simply by updating their new address at the polls.

In 2011, legislators changed that, basically putting chewing gum in our election engine. Now when a Florida voter who has moved to a new county arrives at the poll, he or she must step aside and take up lengthy time and staff attention to cast a "provisional ballot." Each of these have to be hand-checked by election staff, even though the state has a $30 million electronic database that allows these address changes.

And here's the sad news: That provisional ballot wasn't counted on Election Day. Rather it was forwarded to the county canvassing board for deliberation on whether it would be accepted or rejected. This is demeaning. This red tape also adds extra time for that busy voter at the polls.

Now here's the good news: We already have the real-time technology at the polls to determine a voter's status. The proliferation of electronic precinct poll books has generated a huge sea change in validating voter IDs and easing address changes.

The Legislature should restore statewide voter registration permanence and portability. Floridians deserve the A-rated election reform report card we have all been promised. Let's end lines and long delays in counting our votes. We can do this.

Deirdre Macnab is state president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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