Fixing Florida's voting system

Published Dec. 5, 2012

What a difference an election can make. Roughly one month after Florida once again made voting too difficult, state legislators are signaling a willingness to make constructive changes. It's a welcome retreat from the past two years that included a Republican-driven voter suppression law and the governor's faulty attempt to purge voter rolls. But any reforms should include expanding early voting and making it easier to register to vote.

The first meetings of legislative committees to discuss long voting lines and delays in counting votes offered welcome signs of a sincere, bipartisan attempt to assess what went wrong. Testimony at state House and Senate committee meetings this week acknowledged that the unusually long ballot — caused by 11 wordy constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the Republican-led Legislature — was clearly part of the problem. So was the impact of a strategy to encourage the use of mail ballots that are more vulnerable to fraud and can take longer to process.

Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers will need to go beyond addressing those shortcomings to restore Floridians' faith in the state election system after two years of undermining it.

Nothing was said Tuesday in Tallahassee, for example, about the need to reverse a provision in the 2011 law that cut early voting from 14 days to eight days — a decision that contributed to long lines in many areas during early voting and on Election Day and to the lowest turnout in a presidential election in a dozen years. Also ripe for change are rules that force more voters to cast provisional ballots and reduce the number of sites where county supervisors can set up early voting. The courts already have overturned some of the restrictions on third-party voter registration drives that initially prompted the League of Women Voters and other groups to abandon those efforts.

There also has been no acknowledgement by Republican leadership of the damage done by the governor's error-ridden campaign to purge voters. It distracted county election supervisors from more important preparations for Election Day and may well have disenfranchised some American citizens.

There is still time to address these issues before the next election. Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, announced a plan to hold at least two hearings in South Florida, and Secretary of State Ken Detzner plans a fact-finding tour of five counties. But the investigation shouldn't stop there. Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio — who is also a well-regarded former Hillsborough County elections supervisor — has announced plans for a bipartisan task force to look for solutions. And the state's 67 county election supervisors, who actually implement state law and proved themselves to be staunch defenders of voters' rights in the last election, should be broadly consulted and review the shortcomings in many of their own offices.

For too long, Florida has been synonymous with botched elections. That reputation will change only if state leaders put aside partisan agendas to embrace solutions that better protect the rights of every Florida voter.