Florida lawmakers seeking election changes

election
AMY BETH BENNETT/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL/TNS
Ballot boxes are unloaded as vote counting begins at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill on Nov. 16, 2018.

BY ANA CEBALLOS
NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE – Fresh out of high-profile recounts in November and preparing for the 2020 presidential election, Florida lawmakers are working to revamp the state’s elections laws to avoid being the “laughingstock” of the nation.

Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, is sponsoring a House proposal (PCB SAC 19-01) that unanimously passed the House State Affairs Committee on Thursday (March 21).

The proposal would expand access to voting by changing deadlines that would offer voters and local elections supervisors more time to submit and count ballots.

“We will have 40 days to vote if this bill passes,” Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, said. “That is a long, long time.”

Earlier primary

Under the proposal, Floridians would be able to fix signature problems on their vote-by-mail and provisional ballots until two days after elections, and supervisors would be able to mail domestic vote-by-mail ballots earlier to voters, between 40 days and 28 days before elections.

The bill would also appeal to millennial voters: Ballot selfies would no longer be banned.

And for people eager to cast ballots, the 2020 primary election in the nation’s largest swing state would come a week earlier. Under the House proposal, the 2020 primary would be held on Aug. 18.

The proposal mostly seeks to address concerns raised during the 2018 midterm elections. In Florida, narrow margins required recounts in the races for governor, U.S. Senate and agriculture commissioner. The recounts prompted numerous lawsuits and allegations of improper handling of ballots.

At the center of the election mania were issues such as poor ballot design and old vote-counting machines that malfunctioned, along with problems related to counting absentee ballots and meeting recount deadlines.

“At the end of the day, we have to do something, right?” said Rep. Bobby Dubose, D-Fort Lauderdale. “We need to make sure we take into account all things that are a potential variable to make our election process the best process it can be.”

However, DuBose said he would “keep a watchful eye” on Ingoglia and changes to the bill as it moves forward, considering Ingoglia’s close ties to the state GOP.

Other concerns

Ingoglia said his bill seeks to bring greater transparency over local canvassing boards, which are responsible for tabulating votes during elections.

He also wants to add rules to address ballot security, including mandates that would keep a tighter watch on ballot transportation and requiring all ballots to be in locked rooms when not being canvassed.

Under the bill, canvassing boards would need to provide better notification of when they would meet, and the proposal would limit the number of alternate members who can serve on canvassing boards.

Also, upon request, candidates, party officials or political committee officials would be allowed to observe when canvassing boards make copies of physically damaged vote-by-mail ballots.

Democrats on the committee asked whether Ingoglia would consider making Election Day a holiday or if it would be held on a weekend so people are not prevented from voting because of work. Ingoglia said he did not believe in such moves.

Other concerns were related to funding the new requirements. Ingoglia said added costs would be the responsibility of local governments.

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