1. Florida Politics

U.S. Senate panel holds Tampa hearing on Florida election law

Published Jan. 27, 2012

TALLAHASSEE — Two Democratic U.S. senators will hold a hearing in Tampa today to focus on what they say are problems with Florida election laws, and the timing and location are no coincidence.

The hearing, four days before Florida Republicans state their preference for a presidential candidate, will be in Hillsborough County, the largest of five Florida counties that remain under federal jurisdiction when changes are made to the state's election laws.

Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida will accompany Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

They will take several hours of testimony on the 2011 state law that revamped Florida's voting machinery by reducing the days of early voting, requiring third-party voter registration groups to register with the state and subjecting them to fines if they fail to submit voter forms within 48 hours.

A fourth section of the law requires voters to cast provisional ballots if they have moved from one Florida county to another since they last voted.

All four changes are under review by a panel of three federal judges and are not yet in effect in Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry counties.

Republican lawmakers who pressed for the law say it was necessary to bolster public confidence in election laws and reduce fraud. Democrats say the state has had virtually no voter fraud in recent years and call the changes an act of "voter suppression" by the GOP to make it more difficult for college students and minority voters to vote.

Witnesses will include Election Supervisors Michael Ertel in Seminole County and Ann McFall in Volusia County; former Secretary of State Bruce Smathers, a Democrat; and Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political scientist who has been a critic of the new law.

The hearing begins at 1 p.m. in Courtroom No. 1 in the Hillsborough County Courthouse, 800 E. Twiggs St., Tampa.