Voting rights advocates were shocked after a Republican-dominated committee in the Florida House passed sweeping new election rules after allowing only six minutes of debate last Friday.
The 81-page bill, which among other things eliminates two forms of ID used mostly by elderly voters and restricts third-party voter registration, now moves to the House floor without any chance for public testimony.
A similar bill is on its way to the Senate after passing an elections committee on a 5-3 vote on party lines after being introduced for the first time despite only two weeks remaining in the state's legislative session.
A House council hurriedly passed a sweeping rewrite of Florida
election laws Friday after shutting down debate and public comment,
prompting an uproar and cries of ''travesty'' from opponents.
a similar Senate version, the House bill would ban two forms of voter
ID at the polls now used mainly by older voters and require paid
initiative-petition circulators to register with the state. It also
would require people whose address changed in the month before an
election to cast provisional ballots, prohibit anyone from interacting
with voters in a floating 100-foot zone outside polling places and make
it more difficult for third-party groups to register new voters.
While the bill places severe restrictions on voters and voter registration, it simultaneously loosens rules on out of state political action committees:
The bill allows political committees registered in other states to be
active in Florida without complying with the Sunshine State's campaign
reporting requirements, which are stricter than other states.
Legislators would be allowed to create leadership funds to solicit
large donations from special interests and lobbyists.
The House and Senate bills are also notable for what they don't include, such as provisions to expand early voting centers and hours, something Gov. Charlie Crist had to do by executive order last year after swamped early voting sites had waits of up to six hours.
A St. Petersburg Times editorial labeled the massive package a "GOP power grab":
Republican legislative leaders have lost all sense of shame with their
11th-hour bill to roll back voting rights in Florida. The legislation
is so disgraceful it is no wonder a Republican-led House committee
debated the bill for all of 6 minutes Friday before silencing public
comment and approving the bill along party lines. This fast-moving
train needs to be stopped cold.
Yesterday, the ACLU, NAACP and other civil rights groups held a press conference with Democrats to blast the bill:
"There is a chilling similarity between the way this bill was
railroaded through committee and the provisions of the bill itself,"
said Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston. "Both are unabashed attempts to limit the
ability of ordinary citizens to have a say in their government." She
also singled out the bill's sponsor for criticism, saying that Sen.
Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, was unable to cite a single instance
of voter fraud in the 2008 cycle that would justify the ban on two
forms of ID used mainly by retirees.
Voting advocates have cause to be concerned. With Republicans boasting strong majorities in both the Florida Senate (a 26-14 advantage) and House (76-44), there's no doubt they could pass the bill.
The wild card may be Gov. Charlie Crist (R) -- a self-described moderate with larger political ambitions, who may be reluctant to earn bad publicity with voters. Yesterday, Crist hinted that he may veto the bill:
"It always seems to me that when there may be legislation that attempts
to sort of make it harder for people to do something - the people that
we work for - generally that's not good. I don't look on that in a
favorable light and that is true of this particularly particular part
of this legislation."
One possible outcome: Republicans in the legislature will strip out some of the most controversial provisions to make it more palatable for Crist to sign, but still succeed in re-writing parts of the election code.