Kathleen Haughney wrote the following for The Orlando Sentinel:
The Florida Senate is poised to vote Thursday on a comprehensive rewrite of elections law that would limit early voting, change registration practices and let a committee set the date for the 2012 Republican presidential primary.Considering the cited reason for these legislative changes is fraud and considering the Department of State debunked that claim, it is pretty obvious what Florida Republicans are doing - attempting to disenfranchise Democratic voters to help maintain majorities in the state government. Republicans are aware that with the president running for reelection in 2012, Democratic turnout will be higher than in the midterm elections, where Republicans regained control of one-third the federal government and many state chambers.
GOP lawmakers in both the House and Senate, citing cases of voter fraud, proposed the legislation that they say will crack down on election violations and protect the integrity of the vote.
"The whole idea is to organize it, protect people from being taken advantage of and have some measure of accountability," said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, the Senate sponsor.
But according to the Florida Department of State, there's been little election fraud in recent years — just 31 cases of alleged voter fraud referred to the Department of Law Enforcement for investigation between January 2008 and March 2011. Two cases resulted in arrests. In a third case, an arrest warrant was issued, but the suspect fled the country.
Democrats said the intent of the bill, HB 1355, would be to hold down turnout of their party's voters in a presidential election year.
"I know you would not be trying to suppress a citizen's right to vote," Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, sarcastically told Diaz de la Portilla, as the GOP majority beat down Democratic attempts to amend the bill.
The bill would cut the time for early voting from 14 days to eight. Local supervisors of elections could keep their early voting sites open anywhere from six hours to 12 hours per day. That would allow a maximum of 96 hours of early voting — the same number allowed today, but over fewer days.
In the 2008 general election, 32 percent of all voters cast their ballots early, according to a state report, including those who used absentee ballots. But 52 percent of early voters were Democrats — compared with 30 percent who were Republican.
The legislation also would eliminate a longstanding law that allows voters to change their addresses or names at the polls, something done frequently by college students. The bill would allow that only for people who move within the same county. Others would have to cast provisional ballots — and show up later at election supervisors' offices to show proof of identity.