The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Election reform lite

 

OUR OPINION: Legislature takes half-steps toward improving ease of voting

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

After legislative hubris made voting in Florida an exercise in torture, lawmakers are working to rectify their misguided efforts. Nothing like being a national punch line — again — to send folks back to the drawing board. The question remains, Are lawmakers embarrassed enough to do the right thing?

This session, there is a bipartisan effort to ease the pain too many people felt last year when all they wanted to do was cast a vote in the presidential election. In 2011, the Legislature, with Gov. Rick Scott’s blessing, curtailed early voting, mired voters in the quicksand of incomprehensible amendment language and, ultimately, rendered Florida’s role in the 2012 presidential election irrelevant. This after thousands of Floridians waited long after polls were closed to cast a vote. In Miami-Dade County, voting absentee was a confusing nightmare.

The fix is simple: Lawmakers just needed to restore the 14 days of early voting; allow residents who have relocated in-state to cast actual, not provisional, ballots and recommit to putting 75-word summaries of constitutional amendments on the ballot. But legislative results have been a mixed bag, with some welcome provisions along with half-steps that, in the name of flexibility, also could mean inconsistent accessibility to the polls across the state.

In 2011, the Republican-led Legislature cut back the 14 days of early voting. New legislation proposes to let each county decide to hold early voting for up to 14 days, including one Sunday, but not necessarily the Sunday before Election Day. That particular Sunday is popular with church-going African-American voters. And remember the Legislature’s 2011 crackdown on accessibility mandated that the polls be closed that day last year — part of an ill wind of lawmakers’ efforts blowing across the country to stifle Obama supporters. Flexibility is a good thing, but not if it becomes a political tool to reward or deny.

Legislative proposals also give elections supervisors greater ability to designate early-voting sites. Right now, they are restricted to libraries, city halls and election supervisors’ headquarters. Proposals widen the scope to stadiums and fairgrounds, says the League of Women Voters. But what about park buildings and community centers? College campuses? (Oh, right, young people vote the wrong way.) Even the mall?

New legislation would give people who vote absentee a chance to repair their ballots if they have forgotten to sign it, which happens more than one might think. Supervisors’ offices could alert voters in advance to ensure their votes are counted, not wasted.

And it seems that the 75-word limit for constitutional amendments would be restored.

Left unaddressed? Portability. Used to be that residents who relocated somewhere else in Florida could vote in their new home county even if they had not alerted the supervisor of election in advance. After all, there is an electronic database that could quickly confirm state residency. Lawmakers wiped that out, forcing people, including college students, to cast provisional ballots.

This gums up the works needlessly, and voters are not sure if their ballots will be counted. This needs to go. So does having to file an affidavit if one wants an absentee ballot sent to them in another state or abroad. Before this provision was enacted, there were already effective checks and balances in place to maintain the integrity of ballots mailed out this way. The affidavit requirement puts undue burden members of the military and seniors, among others.

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