Charlie Crist joins Democrats to suggest changes to Florida voting bill

11/14/12 Janelle Irwin
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Election Day was last Tuesday, but because of long lines the last voter in Miami didn’t turn their ballot in until Wednesday. At a press conference in downtown Tampa this morning Former Governor Charlie Crist said he saw the headline-making lines in South Florida first hand and something needs to be done about it.

“What I saw in Miami Gardens during early voting and Miami-Dade County and also in Aventura, were lines where people were waiting four, five, six hours and it’s just unconscionable that in our democracy today that that would happen. I talked to the president about 48 hours after he got re-elected and he just called to say thank you for your efforts in Florida and he said, ‘but you know what, can you get that moving a little faster down there?’”

State Representative Darryl Rouson wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again. He hopes to do that by reforming voting laws in the state to be more in line with how they were four years ago.

“The bill reinstates early voting that was cut. It reinstates it to two weeks, particularly the Sunday before Election Day. It will create opportunities for more early voting sites not restrict early voting sites. It will give some local discretion in determining where these early voting sites are and will not just tie them to governmental buildings. It will increase polling places. There will be better voting assistance and bilingual access. It will ensure that provisional ballots are counted.”

Rouson, a Democrat, fought hard against House Republicans who favored the elections bill that reduced early voting days from 14 to 8 and cut out the Sunday before Election Day. Rouson and other opponents of the bill that Governor Rick Scott signed into law in 2011 have argued that it’s the reason lines were so long during early voting and on Election Day.

“I said it on the House floor when HB 1355 passed out that it was a bad elections bill, that it was setting bad precedent, that it was putting forth bad policy and that it was a solution looking for a problem. We had not uncovered massive voter fraud. We were taking care of something that didn’t need to be taken care of.”

Rouson’s bill is a work in progress, but current state Democratic Representative Darren Soto from Orlando has agreed to sponsor it in the Senate after he swaps branches. So far there isn’t any support from Republicans despite the fact that many have said the long lines and delayed vote count was unacceptable. But Chris Mitchell, head of the Hillsborough County Democrats said the legislation is meant to be bi-partisan.

“I look forward to Republicans joining in on this. We need to come together as a community. What happened this past election cannot happen again. We look forward to having that conversation. We look forward to working across the aisle and hopefully this will be a bi-partisan bill that will pass both the House and the Senate and we urge Governor Scott to put partisanship aside and sign this bill.”

Governor Crist was a Republican when he was governor. In 2010 he ran for Senate without party affiliation. This year he campaigned fiercely for Democratic President Barack Obama. Crist is one of many who blame the long voting lines on the 2011 changes to Florida’s voting law that were seen by many as a blatant attempt to disenfranchise voters who tend to lean Democratic. Republican backers defended it saying it was meant to stamp out voter fraud. But Crist said even if voter suppression is what they were after, it didn’t work.

“The good news here is that we had a record vote in Florida. The good news here is that Floridians are persistent and tenacious and never gave up and waited in those lines in spite of the fact that they became longer and longer and God bless them for that – for wanting to exercise that right to vote that so many people have fought and died for. We should not forget this Veteran’s Day week how important it is to know the kind of sacrifices that people have put in order that we would have the right to choose our elected leaders and we should not discourage it – we should always encourage it.

Statistically, young voters are among those who are more likely to vote Democrat. Brian Goff, student body president at USF Tampa, said many of his peers were voting for the first time and the experience for them was less than appealing.

“They weren’t met with open arms to come out to the polls and vote, they were met with great difficulties in registering and changing their address – many students are out of state, we have a lot of out of state students at the University of South Florida and they had extreme difficulties in changing their location so they could even vote here in Hillsborough County. What were they met with? They were met with three hour lines, waits, starting at 6:30 in the morning before polls even opened through the night until polls closed. We had students still waiting in line at 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock to make their voices heard, to make their votes count which is why we need these changes, which is why we need to go back to pre-House Bill laws.”

The legislation being drafted by state Representative Darryl Rouson was filed in bill drafting on October 17. The regular legislative session is set to start in early March. According to the working draft, if the bill is taken up and passed, it would go into effect in July, in time for the 2014 election.

Today, Governor Rick Scott said he wants Florida's top elections official to find out why some counties had long lines and ballot-counting delays in this year's voting.

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