Despite their flaws, the voting reforms expected to be approved this week by the Florida Senate are a substantial improvement over current state law. Republican leaders have failed to deliver on the reasonable expectation that the state would return to a full 14 days of early voting. And a proposal to let the unelected secretary of state discipline the elected county elections supervisors should be abandoned. But the Senate legislation is more comprehensive than the House's proposal, and it would undo much of the harm of the 2011 elections law that precipitated last November's Election Day debacle.
The Senate plan, authored by Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, would make several commonsense changes. It would expand the sites available for early voting and limit, with a caveat, constitutional amendments written by the Legislature to just 75 words. It would improve the chances that voters' ballots will actually get counted. Voters who forget to sign the back of their absentee ballot envelopes would have a chance to remedy the problem until the Sunday before the election. And fewer voters on Election Day would be handed provisional ballots, which are far less likely to be counted.
To finally address the inherent security issues with absentee ballots — long ignored by Republicans even as they pursued alleged fraud at polling places — the Senate bill would require voters seeking to have an absentee ballot mailed to an address other than their home to submit a signed request. (The requirement would be waived for overseas ballots and military personnel.) And it would prohibit paid political operatives from collecting more than two absentee ballots from non-family members. Both provisions are a direct response to ongoing 2012 elections fraud investigations in South Florida.
Neither House nor Senate leaders, however, are willing to fully restore early voting to 14 days — including the Sunday before an election. Both chambers would require just eight days of early voting. But county elections supervisors would have the discretion to expand that up to 14 days, including the Sunday before an election. That would mean some Floridians would have dramatically less access to voting than others.
Lawmakers also refuse to retreat from another provision in the 2011 law that prevents voters from changing their address at the polls if they have moved to a new county. That pointlessly disenfranchises legal voters.
All in all, the Senate plan will do more to ensure voters' ballots are counted than the status quo, but it remains inadequate in a state that was the laughingstock of the nation just six months ago. Voters in the 2014 election can let legislators know what they think of their response.