Gov. Rick Scott’s elections chief faced open hostility from Senate Republicans for a second time Thursday for opposing a bipartisan bill to allow online voter registration by 2017.
Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner said that he doesn’t have a plan to implement the change and is worried about having to coordinate with 67 counties while his agency and the state highway safety department upgrade their databases — which are the backbone of the system used to verify voters’ identities.
To placate Detzner, lawmakers pushed back the start of the online registration system to October 2017. But he’s still fighting a way to offer a new option to make it easier to register to vote that’s favored by every election supervisor, most legislators and the League of Women Voters.
“I would prefer to have a plan in place before I knew that I had an implementation date,” Detzner said. “This is too important to do it wrong.”
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Detzner raised a flurry of potential problems, calling the plan “very high risk” and a “distraction” from next year’s presidential election. He cited “forces of evil” that he said try to disrupt Florida elections and that he would be dependent on agencies not under his control.
“It’s always high risk, whenever you’re dealing with anything in Florida relating to change,” Detzner told senators.
Florida is far behind most states in the South in letting people register to vote or update their voting information online. None of the 20 states with online registration systems has reported problems and Virginia made the change in six months at a cost of $120,000.
As he did last week in another Senate committee, Detzner did not want to testify. That only riled senators more.
When a Detzner aide said that the agency waived its time in opposition, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, insisted that Detzner testify, and things quickly went downhill from there.
Citing “a rumor that’s floating around,” Gaetz asked Detzner if his opposition is being directed by Scott, and Detzner said no: “I have never been told what my position is.”
“This is not your first rodeo in this job,” Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, chided his long-time friend Detzner, who worked in the elections agency decades ago. “You ought to be getting the drift that when both houses are together on an issue, the train is coming down the track.”
The Senate bill (SB 228) requires Detzner to report to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2016, on his timetables for implementing the system. The bill passed with Republican Sens. Anitere Flores, Rene Garcia, Dorothy Hukill and Joe Negron casting the dissenting votes.
The Senate and House agreed to give Detzner’s agency $1.8 million to start planning for the online application, but a minor disagreement over the source of the money prompted the bill (HB 7143) to stall Thursday, temporarily delaying a House floor vote.
Contact Steve Bousquet at email@example.com. Follow @stevebousquet.