Election over? Not yet, insist Florida Democrats

Published Dec. 4, 2012

Democrats delivered Florida to President Barack Obama for a second time last month and loosened Republicans' grip on power in the state Capitol.

But they may have won something more meaningful in the 2012 election than a few more seats in the Legislature.

As they gathered Monday in a caucus room in Tallahassee, Democrats had one thing on their minds: how to maintain ownership of the hottest issue in the state now. That is, protecting the right to vote and holding Republicans accountable for long lines, delayed ballot counts and an expansion of provisional ballots.

The election may be over, but the fight over how the election was managed has only just begun.

"The people are counting on us to drive this debate and win it," said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. He's the House sponsor of a bill to return to 14 days of early voting and to expand early voting sites far beyond what Republicans have allowed.

For more than a decade, as Republicans rolled up bigger and bigger majorities in every election, they have dictated the agenda in Tallahassee.

But Democrats believe they now own the voting issue and that public opinion is firmly on their side.

The intense emotion surrounding problems at the polls in Florida — and the fact that the whole country saw it — gives it a momentum that's not going away.

Ronald Bilbao of the ACLU of Florida mentioned "the great opportunity we have now" to concentrate public attention directly on voting, and making it easier.

The only ones who can take the issue away from Democrats are Republicans, and the only way they can do that is to outdo Democrats in pushing reforms. Not likely.

The first clues of what's to come will emerge today. Senate and House elections committees will begin a public discussion of what changes should be made to the system.

Senate President Don Gaetz framed the issue in a speech two weeks ago. "Floridians should never again have to stand in line for six and seven hours to vote," Gaetz said. "This isn't a Third World country."

The Senate elections panel, chaired by Republican Jack Latvala of Clearwater, will hear from Gov. Rick Scott's top elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, a member of that panel, has filed a bill to return to 14 days of early voting. As the lines lengthened before Election Day, she demanded and was denied a meeting with Scott to seek more early voting days.

The House committee is led by Republican Rep. Jim Boyd of Bradenton, and also will hear from Detzner, along with county election supervisors, who have demanded more leeway in selecting early voting sites.

In Washington, meanwhile, six Democratic members of Congress from Florida want the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to hold public hearings as to whether the Republican-backed Florida election law of 2011 was written in such a way as "to intentionally suppress Democratic turnout."

It's true: Elections — and the way they are run — have consequences.