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House passes bill on early voting, doesn't require paper trail

Associated Press   27 April 2005 

A measure that would limit early voting to eight hours a day in the two weeks before Election Day passed the House despite protests Tuesday from Democrats, who wanted to require a backup recorder for electronic touch screen machines.

The bill (HB 1567), sponsored by Rep. Ronald Reagan, R-Bradenton, passed on an 83-35 vote, largely along party lines.

Opponents said keeping polls open during routine working hours doesn't make it more convenient for voters and many were disgusted that there was no interest in providing a paper backup for touch screen equipment.

"Voters have complained about one thing overall, a paper trail," Rep. Ken Gottlieb, D-Hollywood, said. "This bill doesn't have it. We need a paper trail. We need a bunch of things to make elections better."

The legislation would require that early voting end on the Sunday before the election to give the county supervisors time to ensure everything was in place for Election Day.

Reagan said cost and staffing pressures were a big reason for the eight hour cap, but noted voters had 10 weekdays and two weekend days available to them if they wished to cast ballots before Election Day.

And while the increasingly popular early voting days would be capped at eight hours, anyone standing in line would be allowed to vote.

"If this is a true democracy, we want to make sure we give people full access when it's time to vote," said Frank Peterman Jr., D-St. Petersburg, who voted against the bill.

Nearly one in five Florida voters took advantage of the early voting in 2004. Last year more than 2 million Floridians cast early or absentee ballots - nearly 2 1/2 times the number of people who voted by absentee ballots in 2000.

A similar proposal in the Senate (SB 2176) was approved in its Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee on a 4-2 vote Tuesday.

It passed in the upper chamber and signed by Gov. Jeb Bush, the new requirements would go into effect Jan. 1, 2006.

The legislation, which has been controversial with the state's 67 county supervisors, also authorizes the secretary of state to maintain uniformity in application of the election code across the state.

"I don't know how you get to where the supervisor of elections want to go," Bense said Tuesday. "I think whatever we do I don't think they're going to be happy with this Legislature."

One of the bill's noisiest critics, Leon County Supervisor Ion Sancho, did not immediately return a phone message for comment on Tuesday's developments.

Much of the lengthy proposal was conforming, technical and clarifying to help the state meet the requirements of the Help America Vote Act, a response in part to the problems that surfaced in Florida's 2000 presidential election recount.


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