TALLAHASSEE -- Embarrassed by an elections meltdown, lawmakers headed to the Florida Capitol this year with a pledge to undo a law that helped lead to long lines, angry voters and jeers about “Flori-duh.”
But the elections clean-up bill that the House passed on the very first day of the legislative session has yet to pass the Legislature as the last day dawns.
Lawmakers overwhelmingly support the plan to reverse a 2011 election law by expanding the number of early voting sites and days. The bill also gives people a chance to correct an absentee ballot they forgot to sign and would make it easier to prosecute people caught with multiple absentee ballots.
But there’s a major hang-up between the House and Senate: a plan to punish election supervisors deemed ineffective and “noncompliant” with the state’s election code.
“We think it’s a little bit punitive,” House Speaker Will Weatherford said Thursday, indicating the proposal would be stripped from the bill.
It all revolves around the county that was a poster child of electoral dysfunction: Miami-Dade.
The Senate wants the punishment language, partly to target supervisors like Miami-Dade’s Penelope Townsley, who defended the way her office handled the last election when some voters waited more than eight hours to cast ballots. A number of Miami-Dade voters cast ballots after President Obama was declared the 2012 winner.
“Suffice it to say no matter what the Legislature decides to do, I will continue to do my job to the best of my ability,” she said. “I really don’t take a position on whether anyone was targeted or not. I just am very confident that I will do my job,” she said. “I will comply as I have in the past with all of the requirements under statute.”
In the lead up to last year’s general election, Townsley and her staff drew up a plan to draw new Miami-Dade precincts to even out the number of voters at each polling site. But Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration decided to delay the changes at the request of some county commissioners, who feared voters would be confused as to where to cast their ballots.
County and elections advocates blame the Legislature for long lines and election troubles because of the 2011 law that cut back on early voting and made it easier to print the full texts of multiple proposed constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the Legislature.
Coupled with inadequately equipped or sited precincts, early voting and Election Day lines stretched for hours in counties like Miami-Dade and Orange.
Amid the criticism of the state law, known as HB 1355, cosponsor Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla said local election supervisors should be held accountable as well.
Diaz de la Portilla sponsored the plan last month to withhold some pay for election supervisors who don’t properly manage elections. The secretary of state can recommend the governor remove election supervisors who are deemed noncompliant for more than three years in a row.
Weatherford indicated the House would try to compromise with the Senate by making the new noncompliance language apply only to un-elected supervisors. There’s only one in the state: Miami-Dade’s.
Since all other supervisors are elected, lawmakers say, the elections’ chiefs can be called to account by voters for mismanaging elections or failing to competently run an election. So, they say, there’s little reason to give the state more power.