One of the fundamental freedoms we enjoy as Americans is the right to have our voices heard at the ballot box. Our right to vote was first earned during our nation's struggle for independence and has been defended by generations of Americans willing to sacrifice life and limb on the battlefield. As a cornerstone of our democracy, voting rights are sacred, but only if our laws ensure free, fair and open elections.
In an effort to preserve the integrity of Florida's elections, I sponsored a bill in 2011 to enhance Florida's election code and take unprecedented steps to stop voter fraud. With approval from the Legislature and the governor, that bill is now law. The steps were necessary, but unfortunately, some have sought to inject partisanship into what would otherwise be a commonsense issue: ensuring fairness and integrity at the polls on Election Day.
Contrary to what opponents have said, the law was not intended to suppress minority voting or reduce access to the ballot box. Instead, the purpose of the law was to ensure those ineligible to vote do not vote. These individuals include convicted felons and the deceased. The law granted the secretary of state the authority to use information systems that will help identify names of ineligible voters currently on the voter rolls. As such, Gov. Rick Scott has directed his secretary of state, Ken Detzner, to begin ridding Florida's voter rolls of noncitizens so that the only votes counted on Election Day are votes from lawful and registered voters.
The law also ensures Florida's election code is applied uniformly across the state by directing the secretary of state to provide the written direction and opinions to the supervisors of elections on matters relating to their official duties with respect to the Florida Election Code or rules adopted by the Department of State.
The law also addressed several issues that arise during an election, including making ballots easier to read and cheaper to print, adding polling place names and addresses to voter registration cards and ensuring voting systems are working properly. The law also improved the ability of absentee voters to receive ballots as soon as possible. The bottom line is that this law was not passed to protect political parties — it's about protecting the voter.
Perhaps most importantly, the new election law ensures supervisors of elections have ample time to prepare for elections and count ballots while maximizing taxpayer dollars by streamlining the period of early voting to 10 days prior to Election Day. Florida's proposed implementation of this law has been accepted by the United States Department of Justice as complying with the Federal Voting Rights Act and is pending final approval by the federal court.
The United States was founded on upholding the rule of law, and our elections laws should be held to the same high standard. By passing these simple but necessary reforms, we have ensured Florida's elections have integrity and fairness and voters can continue to have their say in the affairs of our state and nation.
State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, sponsored the 2011 Election Transparency and Accountability bill.