1. Opinion

Editorial: House voting reforms don't go far enough

Hundred of voters wait in long lines to cast their ballots on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, in Miami.
Published Mar. 8, 2013

It was designed to be a symbolic gesture of significant proportions. On the first day of the 2013 session Tuesday, the Florida House overwhelmingly approved a mea culpa bill aimed at correcting the legislative-created dysfunction of the 2012 election. Despite its good intentions, the House legislation falls short of the cure-all Republican leaders claim — particularly when it comes to early voting. Now it falls to the Senate to improve this bill and give Floridians fairer, smoother elections.

Florida's election issues in November can be tied directly to the 2011 Legislature. Dramatically shortened early voting opportunities combined with a ballot the Legislature crammed full of lengthy constitutional amendments led to extraordinary lines at the polls on Election Day. In parts of Miami-Dade County, some ballots weren't cast until after midnight. Then it took days for county elections officials to process the record number of absentee ballots that were cast.

Much of HB 7013 makes commonsense changes, such as requiring county election supervisors to process any absentee ballots received prior to Election Day beforehand and allowing absentee voters to cast a new ballot if they fail to sign the outside envelope of the first one. But instead of restoring the state's early voting to a required 14 days, Republican House leaders embraced a half-measure. They increased the minimum number of hours that early voting polls must be open from 48 over eight days to 64 hours over eight days. But they left to each county's discretion whether to offer more early voting, up to 14 days totaling no more than 168 hours. And it's also up to each county whether early voting is available on the Sunday before a Tuesday election, a high turnout day.

The scheme is a recipe for inconsistent access to the polls and flies in the face of the state's arguments as it defended the 2011 law that reduced early voting and drew objections from the U.S. Justice Department as it applied to five counties — including Hills-borough — with a history of discrimination.

Some county elections supervisors have pushed for flexibility, arguing one-size-fits-all does not make sense for 67 diverse counties. But the tradeoff is far too great. Under the House bill, neighboring counties could embrace radically different plans for early voting. That has real implications for multicounty races for the Legislature and Congress. Already in Tampa Bay, Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark has eschewed early voting in favor of mail-in ballots and opens the minimum three early voting sites each election, while neighboring counties open many more locations. Under this House bill, that disparity of access could grow, with neighboring counties offering substantially more early voting hours and giving their citizens a disproportionate chance to influence the outcome of multi-county races.

House Republicans said all the right things this week about learning from the 2012 election. But actions speak louder than words. HB 7013 is step in the right direction, but it now falls to the Senate to approve a sure solution. Florida should have one common standard to ensure the greatest opportunity to vote, and early voting should be restored to 14 days statewide — including the Sunday before the election.


  1.  Bill Day --
  2. Jomari DeLeon, is pictured at at Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy, Florida August 7, 2019. Jomari is three years into a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking. She sold 48 tablets of prescription tablets over two days to an undercover officer. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Even Oklahoma, a state not famous for progressive reform, has done more than Florida to fix sentencing inequities, Carl Hiaasen writes.
  3. In this photo from June 28, 2019, a Coalition for Life St. Louis member waves to a Planned Parenthood staff member. ROBERT COHEN  |  AP
    Florida law already requires that parents be notified prior to an abortion, writes senior policy counsel at the ACLU of Florida.
  4. Students say the Pledge of Allegiance as thousands gather at a candlelight vigil for several students killed in the Saugus High School shooting in Central Park, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Santa Clarita, Calif. CAROLYN COLE  |  AP
    We doctors treat diseases, but what of the epidemic of gun violence, writes a St. Petersburg doctor.
  5. Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association members protest outside of the school board building in Tampa in December 2017. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Tuesday’s letters to the editor.
  6. Muhammad Abdur-Rahim points out the location of what is believed to be a former African-American cemetery next to the parking lot of Frank Crum Staffing located at 100 S. Missouri Ave. in Clearwater.  The empty lot is part of the former Clearwater Heights neighborhood which featured Bethany CME church and Williams Elementary School.   Photo taken Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.  JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times
    Tampa Bay’s lost cemeteries are part of our collective history.
  7. A business man and woman holding a sign depicting their political party preference. SHARON DOMINICK  |
    Here’s what readers had to say in Monday’s letters to the editor.
  8. Leonard Pitts undefined
    Don’t wall ourselves off from contradictory opinions, writes Leonard Pitts.
  9. President Donald Trump, right, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani pose for photographs as Giuliani arrives at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Nov. 2016 in Bedminster, N.J.
    Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
  10. (left to right) Nupar Godbole, medical student at USF, and Tiffany Damm, medical student at UCF, take part in a papaya workshop at the University of South Florida Medical Students for Choice Second Annual Florida Regional Conference held in the Morsani College of Medicine on February 24, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. Some of the instruments used in abortions, like the manual vacuum aspirator, are used in an exercise with a papaya, to simulate an abortion. MONICA HERNDON  |  Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Sunday’s letters to the editor.