State Politics

With recounts in rear view, House Democrats weigh Florida election reforms

After one of the most contentious midterms in state history, House Democrats are preparing a package of election reforms to extend voting deadlines, standardize election processes across counties and improve the signature matching process ahead of the 2020 elections. But Republican leaders have suggested such reforms are not high on their priority list going into next year’s session.

In a wide-ranging Wednesday morning workshop, Democrats batted around several proposals including adjusting voting and registration deadlines, eliminating prohibitions on counting early votes and requiring signature-matching training for supervisors and canvassing boards. Democrats also raised the possibility of alternative means of verifying voters’ identities — like using the last four digits of Social Security numbers — and pushing supervisors to update old voting equipment to minimize counting delays.

“We want a reliable election system … and to send a message to the country that Florida will stand as a beacon of hope as it relates to voting change,” said Minority Leader Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, in a press conference after the workshop. “If our elections system is questionable, then one has to admit our democracy becomes questionable.”

But Democratic lawmakers also shied away from explicitly criticizing the performance of some election supervisors, particularly those in Broward and Palm Beach, where delays prompted several lawsuits over the razor-thin margins in the race.

McGhee said he hopes to make the proposed reforms a bipartisan effort, and he and Thompson met with Majority Leader Dane Eagle shortly after the morning workshop, he said.

House Speaker Jose Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano have preemptively signaled the issue is not high on their priority lists. The House does not intend to convene any kind of special committee on election reform, and Galvano told reporters last month that he was open to changes, though he offered few specifics.

Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, who is helping lead the House Democrats’ election reform efforts, said during the workshop that the circumstances surrounding the 2018 election and recounts were extraordinarily unusual, compounded by high turnout and close margins that snarled the subsequent recount process.

Voters had to adhere to an “incoherent set of deadlines,” noted Thompson, a former state senator, adding supervisors also significantly varied in how they conducted elections in their counties. “Your role as a legislator is to address some of the problems we’re pointing out here.”

Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, raised questions about how and why online options were not available for some voters to cure ballots with signature issues, adding that a group of Democratic lawyers is examining potential reforms.

“One of the things that really is shocking in this advanced age is we do absolutely nothing with it on the Internet,” he said. “As a minimum everyone who is registered who has an email address on file should be notified by Internet.”

Lawmakers also raised the possibility of allowing same-day voter registration and standardizing ballot designs — prompted by concerns the Broward County ballot, which placed the U.S. Senate race below the voting instructions on the first page, contributed to a notable undervote in the contest between outgoing Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson. One suggestion to make Election Day a paid holiday prompted applause.

Some election-related bills have already been filed for consideration in next year’s session, including a proposal that would require a 65 percent rather than 60 percent threshold to approve a constitutional amendment or revision and another that would change whether or not Cabinet members should be able to fundraise during session. A proposal to elect the Secretary of State — which was submitted in a bill filed by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach — was also raised in the Democratic meeting as a possible improvement to the election system.

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