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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Jun. 20, 2013 9 years ago

Officials cheer, jeer voting law changes

New bill means shorter lines at the polls
by: Tim Freed Managing Editor

Florida voters can expect shorter lines during future elections in Florida, thanks to a new bill signed by Gov. Rick Scott last month.

The new bill will go into effect in November, and gives Florida counties more flexibility in setting additional days, hours and locations for early voting, trimming down the crowds on Election Day.

“We have to remember that a lot of people being interested in an election and voting is a good thing,” said Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Michael Ertel. “What’s not good is not being able to accommodate them, and so that’s what I think this will allow us to do is have that flexibility.”

Counties are now able to add up to six more days beyond the required eight days of early voting, and the minimum amount of time an early voting station is open has been moved from six hours to eight hours.

The bill means more locations for early voting as well. Florida residents will now be able to vote early at community buildings, civic centers and stadiums, Ertel said.

Orange County Elections Supervisor Bill Cowles said the importance of early voting comes from getting people in and out of the polls quickly and efficiently.

“We have to meet the needs of the voters,” Cowles said. “They want convenience in their voting; they want options in their voting, so that’s why I think we’re seeing the emphasis on these laws for early voting.”

The current bill undid many of the changes that were made in 2011, which cut back on early voting by decreasing the number of voting days from 14 to eight and outlawing early voting on Sunday. Both were seen widely as politically motivated.

Florida’s early voting during elections has been expanded, decreased and expanded again and again over the past several years. In 2008, Florida was given 14 days of early voting. In 2012, that number dropped to 10 days, and the 2016 elections are expected to have 14 days once again.

Cowles suggested that politics usually plays a part in these changes.

“Many times politics will get involved in determining the decisions that are made concerning the legislation, so I think in the case of 2011, there was an attempt to make some things happen for the 2012 election, and I think they saw that they were not wise decisions and then they reversed themselves,” Cowles said.

Florida House Rep. Karen Castor Dentel said she agreed that the fluctuations in early voting could probably be tied to politics.

“I do think that it’s a political strategy for some to limit the number of people who vote,” Castor Dentel said. “If you’re going to limit Sunday early voting, which is a traditional day of voting for African Americans, who traditionally vote Democrat, that sounds like a political strategy to me.”

“Hopefully we’ll rise above that.”

One of the more controversial items on the bill is one that raises the amount of money a voter can contribute to a candidate from $500 to $1,000.

“It ends up making people who can’t give that money have less of a voice,” Castor Dentel said. “Not that the limits themselves are obscene, but it minimizes people who don’t have access to that kind of money to participate.”

Castor Dentel said a certain Supreme Court ruling made way for this increased monetary influence in politics.

“The Citizen’s United ruling that recognized corporations as people kind of opened the doors to corporations having an undue amount of influence,” Castor Dentel said. “I disagree with that court ruling. We should represent the people, not necessarily corporations. We’re representing the people who vote for us, the people in our districts.”

“Money is a problem in these races.”

Though the new bill has its setbacks, it generally addresses the issues that needed to be changed from 2011, Ertel said.

“It’s not a perfect bill, but overall, I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Ertel said.

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