One of my most important responsibilities as secretary of state in Florida is preserving the integrity of the voting process while increasing access to the ballot box. The right to vote is one of the most obvious symbols of our nation's freedom. Americans must have confidence in the electoral process we use to choose our local, state and national leaders.
Legislators also take this responsibility seriously, and both the House and Senate sent an important reform bill to Gov. Rick Scott, who signed it into law Thursday. The new law makes early voting more accessible now than ever before, by expanding the number of hours that election supervisors can open early voting sites — from just eight hours before, to 12 hours a day.
To combat voter fraud, reduce the burden on poll workers and provide needed flexibility to local election supervisors, the number of days polls remain open has been reduced from 14 possible days to eight days, even as the total number of hours available for early voting will remain the same.
The result is that working voters will be able to vote before or after work, something they haven't been able to do in the past. That added flexibility will enable more people than ever to take advantage of early voting. And, if an election supervisor finds it's not absolutely necessary to keep all of his or her polling places open a full 12 hours a day, which isn't unusual for rural areas, he or she has the flexibility to save taxpayer money by not employing poll workers that aren't needed.
Critics of the new election law suggest there will be less time to vote. That is just not the case. Now, more than ever, voters have more options to choose from in order to take advantage of early voting.
Another important change to election law will affect voters who need to change their address from one county to another on the day of an election. Voters facing that specific circumstance will be required to cast a provisional ballot at their new polling place. Voters who change their address within their county are not affected.
While this new requirement will increase the number of provisional ballots cast, the increased oversight by county canvassing boards will also provide an extra level of security against fraud. And when combating fraud, proactive measures are better than reactive measures. As such, I've taken an additional proactive measure of my own. To further ensure that a legitimate provisional ballot won't go uncounted, I've directed county canvassing boards to approve every provisional ballot cast as a result of an address change, unless there is actual evidence of fraud.
Finally, some critics claim third-party voter organizations don't have enough time to register voters under this new law. Before the changes, third-party voter organizations had 10 days to submit new voter registrations. Now, organizations have 48 hours. While the time is significantly shorter, 48 hours is more than enough time to submit valid voter registrations.
I don't expect these changes will be the last for Florida's election law. If the system can be improved, it must be reformed accordingly. But today, the following remains true: Early voting remains at 96 hours, with greater flexibility for counties; if someone is eligible to vote, their vote will be counted, regardless of whether they changed their address at a polling place; and the new changes provide third-party voter organizations a reasonable time frame to submit voter registrations to their local supervisor of elections.
The right to vote is one of the pillars of our country, and I am committed to assuring the continued integrity of our elections. However you choose to vote, I will make sure you are able to do it in a timely and accessible manner.
Kurt Browning is Florida's secretary of state.