Fixing Florida’s voting woes – lawmakers pledge new reforms

In the aftermath of the November election, the one with seven recounts and a flurry of lawsuits, Democrats have promised a package of electoral reforms that they will unveil in advance of the 2019 legislative session. But Governor Ron DeSantis isn’t convinced that reforms are necessary.

“The election stuff is not rocket science,” DeSantis said this week in a briefing with state media in Tallahassee. “It just needs to be done transparently and it needs to be done openly and I think if we do that, and if people just follow what’s been laid out, I think we’ll have a smooth election.”

DeSantis suspended Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher for her performance in last November’s election, in part because Palm Beach was the only county which failed to complete the machine recount, which included four separate races. Bucher, a Democrat, strongly objected, but announced this week she will not fight the suspension.

DeSantis’ predecessor, Rick Scott, suspended Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes in late November, after a variety of problems emerged during the election there. Snipes later resigned. In both cases, Republican governors replaced Democratic supervisors of elections with Republican officers.

Among the potential electoral reforms: extending the deadline for vote-by-mail ballots. Some lawmakers have said the vote-by-mail deadline should be the same as when overseas ballots are due.

Under the current system, county supervisor of elections offices require vote-by-mail ballots by 7 p.m. on election day, but the overseas ballot deadline is ten days after the election. DeSantis didn’t address the issue of overseas ballots coming in so much later than other ballots, and  said he has no desire to change the status quo.

“You should know by 7:30 that night (of the election) how many ballots were obviously cast early…how many vote-by-mail, which most of them you will receive before the election day, and then how many election day voters,” DeSantis said. “And when you know that, and we know the finite number of votes, it’s very difficult to say that someone’s manipulating the results because they’re there. It’s only when we don’t know how many voters are out there that people can say, ‘Oh, someone just brought a truckload of votes in.’ So I want to avoid that.”

House Speaker Jose Oliva said Wednesday his office is reviewing some electoral reform proposals, but like DeSantis, seemed content to attribute blame mostly to the problems that occurred in Broward and Palm Beach counties, two Democratic strongholds

“If there are general improvements that can be made…then perhaps we should look at that,” Oliva said. “But I’m not ready to say right now that we absolutely feel that there has to be great reform. I think the biggest problems in those two counties were that they didn’t completely follow the law.”

Two South Florida judges, in separate cases, ruled that Broward and Palm Beach elections supervisors violated state laws on public records and allowing public access during the recount.

Democratic House Leader Kionne McGhee said that Democrats, led by Orlando Rep. Geraldine Thompson, are working on a package of electoral reforms which will be unveiled in late February. McGhee said Thompson has been working with House Republicans on those proposals.

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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