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Election proposals aren't voter-friendly


Miami Herald   29 April 2005

Election bills in the House and Senate that would amend Florida's voting seem designed to discourage voting rather than encourage it. That's the wrong approach. Collectively, the bills would make voting more difficult. One proposal, for example, would require voters to present a picture ID. Without the ID, they would have to cast a provisional vote. Lawmakers should remember the lesson from America's Jim Crow past about making voting easier, not more difficult.

These bills don't help voter confidence. For example, HB 1567, which was approved by the House last week, doesn't address the need for a paper trail of votes in counties including Broward and Miami-Dade that use touch-screen machines.

Early-voting standards

When it comes to setting flexible standards to expand early voting, which is growing in popularity, legislators seem disinclined to ensure convenience and access, particularly in minority communities. Bills in both houses would limit early voting to eight hours a day for two weeks before an election at the same locales now allowed by state law: county libraries, city halls and branch offices of election supervisors. There aren't a lot of these facilities in minority communities, however. Last November, with long lines at early-voting sites, supervisors wanted to open other facilities, such as government-run community centers, but the law prevented that. Legislators are refusing to expand locations beyond the three now on the books. This would mean, for example, no early voting at the Joseph Caleb Center.

What's more, HB 1567 requires supervisors to get prior approval from Florida's secretary of state before expanding early-voting locations a cumbersome mechanism that simply isn't necessary. Secretary of State Glenda Hood has backed off this proposal but House leaders left it in their bill.

Another bad provision in bills in both houses changes the voter-challenge process. Currently, approved poll watchers can challenge a voter's legitimacy. Poll workers vote on whether to accept or deny the challenge. If accepted, the voter must cast a provisional ballot. If denied, the voter can vote in the regular way.

Misbegotten rule

The Legislature would change this fair rule so that any challenge would automatically require the voter to cast a provisional ballot, whose validation would be determined later by county canvassing boards. Under this misbegotten rule, there is the potential for partisan poll watchers to use the challenge repeatedly, thus disrupting voting in precincts the bastions of our democracy. While penalties for frivolous challenges would be toughened, supervisors still see this proposal as an unnecessary onus on voters and poll workers.

For the most part, this year's election bills aren't voter-friendly. If lawmakers can't do better, they should table the proposed election-law changes for this session until cooler heads prevail.

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