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Democrat lawmakers foresaw voting chaos, but their proposals were shot down

Many of the problems that surfaced during the election were predicted by Democratic legislators who tried to soften the impact of HB 1355 with a slew of pro-voter amendments.

All the amendments failed in the Republican-dominated House and Senate, though some of the same lawmakers who voted against the reforms now appear to be supporting election reform.

"We don't know what led to those long lines," said incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, adding that a committee needs to look at why Florida's election was plagued by 6-hour lines and a last-in-the-nation presidential result.

Language from the Democrats' amendments would have expanded the number of early voting sites, limited the length of constitutional amendments and given local election supervisors the option to extend early voting hours on their own if they felt it necessary.

Sec. of State Ken Detzner, Florida's chief elections official, has said that the length of the ballot and the lack of sufficient early voting sites is what caused the chaos on Election Day.

Amendments and legislation that would have dealt specifically with those issues were rejected by Republican lawmakers, including some in South Florida districts that had lines of up to 9 hours.

One failed amendment would have mandated that local elections supervisors do everything in their power to ensure that no voter waited more than 25 minutes in line.

One after the other, the amendments failed. Now, lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott, who signed HB 1355, are trying to figure out what went so terribly wrong during Florida's nationally-televised voting debacle.

Here are a few Democrat-backed amendments to HB 1355 that now seem prescient, 18 months after they were offered, and killed, on the floor of the House and Senate.

Amendment: A981135, April 19, 2011
Sponsor: Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando
Proposal: Would have limited to 75 words the ballot summaries of proposed constitutional amendments—which took up several pages this year and are widely believed to have caused much of the chaos during the elections. The amendment would have also placed limits on Legislature-proposed amendments, eight of which were soundly rejected by voters on Election Day.
Excerpt: "The ballot must include a statement expressing the chief purpose of the proposed legislation, in clear and unambiguous language not exceeding 75 words in length, and a statement of the economic impact of the proposed legislation."
Result: Failed in a party-line 78-37 vote, with top Republicans like HB 1355 sponsor Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, voting against it.

Amendment: AA 536956, May 2, 2011
Sponsor: Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa
Proposal: Would have mandated more early voting locations and allowed local supervisors to have early voting in more precincts. Sec. Ken Detzner now says that the lack of available early voting sites caused much of the chaos and long lines.
Excerpt: "In any general election in which a candidate for President of the United States appears on the ballot, the supervisor of elections shall designate at least one early voting site for every 40,000 registered voters within the county."
Result: Amendment Failed.

Amedment: AA 910767, May 5, 2011
Sponsor: Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach
Proposal: Give local elections supervisors more flexibility to expand early voting if they felt it was necessary to prevent lines. This year, that power was held exclusively by Gov. Rick Scott, who chose not to use it despite pleas from top officials and lengthy lines that stretched for hours. In Miami-Dade, Broward and other counties, local supervisors wishing to expand early voting had to find a loophole in the law by allowing in-person absentee voting after the early voting period ended. In Miami-Dade County, this strategy led to even more long lines and chaos, with people shouting "Let us vote!"
Excerpt: "The supervisor of elections may expand early voting hours and locations during the early voting period if she or he determines that the current early voting hours and locations are not sufficient to provide electors an opportunity to vote early without unreasonable delays."
Result: Amendment Failed

Amendment: AA 227265, May 5, 2011
Sponsor: Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach
Proposal: To ensure that early voting lines would not be prohibitively long, given the fact that HB 1355 cut the number of early voting days from 14 to 8. The amendment required county supervisors to have adequate staffing and locations for a smooth early voting process. Some top backers of HB 1355 have blamed local elections supervisors for the election day problems.
Excerpt: "County supervisors of elections shall provide sufficient staffing, equipment, and locations to limit early voting wait times to less than 25 minutes."
Result: Amendment Failed.