State Politics

Florida House approves online voter registration — with a twist

The Florida House on Tuesday overwhelmingly endorsed a new system of online voter registration, but added a new wrinkle.
The Florida House on Tuesday overwhelmingly endorsed a new system of online voter registration, but added a new wrinkle. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The Florida House on Tuesday overwhelmingly endorsed a new system of online voter registration, but added a new wrinkle.

Over the opposition of county election supervisors, Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, added a provision that bounced the bill back to the Senate for another floor vote. Although the House abruptly ended its regular session Tuesday, the Senate will still be considering measures Wednesday.

The House vote of 109-9 came a day after the Senate had passed the bill on a 34-3 vote.

Grant’s amendment seeks to ensure “data integrity” and requires the state to make a “comprehensive risk assessment” of the online registration system every two years.

The Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said the Senate would agree to the new provision and send the bill to the governor.

“Some members in the House have some reservations about how we’ve run technology in this state and we just want to give them a little more assurance that we’re getting it done properly,” Clemens said. “I think we’re good.”

In the House, Democrats questioned Grant’s motives.

“This is a thinly veiled attempt to kill this bill,” said Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg. “This is not a beneficial thing for the voters.”

Grant, who returned to the House less than a week ago after winning a special election, called Dudley’s criticism “a patent lie.”

Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley emailed House members with the message that Grant’s amendment isn’t needed and that his concerns can be addressed bureaucratically. “In short, not needed,” Corley said.

In an interview, Corley said: “These matters can easily be handled administratively. What the motivation of Rep. Grant is, I haven’t a clue.”

If the bill passes and Gov. Rick Scott signs it into law, Florida would become the 25th state to allow people to register or update their voting information online as an alternative to paper forms that must be mailed or delivered to a county election office.

County election supervisors have been lobbying for the online system for months, but they are concerned that Scott might veto the bill (SB 228). His chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, has spent the 2015 session trying to kill the bill, warning that “forces of evil” will try to disrupt Florida’s election machinery in the 2016 presidential election.

In an effort to appease Detzner, legislators agreed to delay implementation of the system until October 2017 and set aside $1.8 million, but Detzner has remained firmly opposed to the idea. He said his Division of Elections and the state highway safety agency are both in the midst of major upgrades to their computer systems.

Supervisors wrote to Scott on April 16, asking to meet with him to ease any concerns he might have.

“In examining online voter registration, we have found there to be only positive gains from the concept: lower costs, more security and greater accuracy,” wrote Jerry Holland, supervisor of elections in Duval County and president of the state association of supervisors.

Holland said he has received no response from Scott, other than a confirmation that the letter was received.

Twenty-one states have implemented online voter registration systems, including New Mexico earlier this month, and three other states are in the process of implementing it.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263

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