1. Opinion

Fixing Florida's voting system

Florida has a long history of botching elections and suppressing minority votes. Enough is enough.

All Floridians should be able to exercise their right to vote without hardship. No one should have to wait in line for hours to exercise their right to vote. Bottom line: Every vote must count.

I have been working to ensure that these rights are safeguarded. It has been my honor to serve as the lead Democrat on elections issues in the Florida House of Representatives. I have spent countless hours looking at what the Legislature can and must do to fix the system. I have consulted with supervisors of elections and with elections experts to find the best solutions to Florida's problems.

HB 7013 will be voted on by the full House early in the 2013 legislative session. If passed, we will see early voting hours increase to a minimum of 64 hours over eight days with an option to offer up to 168 hours over 14 days. Supervisors will be required to hold early voting hours on at least one Sunday and they will be allowed to open on the Sunday before Election Day. HB 7013 will give counties the flexibility to establish more early voting locations in a broader array of locations. These are improvements, but less than Democrats wanted.

I successfully sponsored an amendment that would allow a voter who failed to sign an absentee ballot to be able to sign an affidavit and claim his or her vote. My amendment will allow thousands of voters to protect their fundamental right instead of losing that right due to a small mistake as current law requires. I am grateful to the chair of the Ethics and Elections Subcommittee for helping me give these Floridians back their votes.

Despite the progress made so far, there are still areas of concern that must be addressed. I strongly believe that we must return to allowing voters to change their address at the polls, as we did for nearly 40 years without problems. We must treat in-person voters equally, regardless of when they vote. Currently, those who vote early may vote anywhere in their home county, but those who vote on Election Day will have their votes discarded if they vote at the wrong precinct. These are just two examples of many further issues that we must address.

Every vote is important and it the duty of the government to ensure that they count. Florida should be in the spotlight for getting elections right, not getting them wrong. We are moving in the right direction, but we have a long way to go. I challenge my colleagues in the House to continue to work to give Floridians the elections they deserve.

Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa is a Democrat who represents District 62 in the Florida House. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.