Statehouse Democrats oppose GOP election reform bill; Elections Supervisors like the reforms

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Two influential county Supervisors of Elections are defending a Republican-sponsored proposal that Democrats are labeling as “voter suppression.”

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Republican from Hernando County, makes a number of changes to the Florida Election Code, including moving the last day for voters to request vote-by-mail ballots from six days before an election to 10 days. And it prohibits Supervisors of Slections from mailing out ballots less than eight days before the election instead of four days, as is currently the law.

That’s provoked the ire of the Florida Democratic Party, which calls the bill another example of GOP-led “voter suppression.” The party issued a memo last week claiming that if the proposed bill were in place last fall, the dates changing when vote-by-mail ballots can be requested and delivered “could” have invalidated more than 53,000 votes.

“Throwing out more than 53,000 votes would have had a tremendous impact on races up and down the ballot in a 2018 election year in which three statewide races, and multiple legislative elections, were decided by a recount,” wrote Juan Penalosa, the party’s executive director. “Had HB 7101 been law in 2018, the outcomes of those races could have been dramatically different – but more importantly, the voices of as many as 53,929 votes would have been silenced.”

But Mark Earley, Supervisor of Elections in Leon County and a Democrat, said that the supervisors around the state strongly support the change, saying that the U.S. Postal Service recommends earlier timelines on vote-by-mail ballots, because the USPS has  closed many of its smaller offices and  have less personnel to move mail so quickly.

“That’s added time for first-class mail to be delivered,” Earley said. “The standard was one to two days delivery turnaround. Now it’s gone from three to five (days). But they stressed to us, when these big mailings are going out, we should factor in five days turnaround.”

Earley added that in recent elections, there have been requests for thousands of ballots in the last days before an election, and “really, there’s no hope for the voters to get that back to us, and that’s causing a big problem.”

Ingoglia, the former chair of the Republican Party of Florida, said he’s certain that both the major political parties would undoubtedly alert their supporters well in advance of any changes to vote-by-mail ballots in 2020. “Political parties and candidates are going to shift the way they campaign, and they are going to alert the voters of those changes,” he said.

Paul Lux is a Republican from Okaloosa County and the president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections. He says that when virtually all of the supervisors of elections from around the state gathered last December, they endorsed 19 specific changes to current election law. Six of those are being addressed in different bills, he said Wednesday, and 11 of the remaining 13 are addressed in Ingoglia’s bill.

“The supervisors support HB 7101,” Lux said.

The bill also would allow Supervisors of Elections to mail domestic vote-by-mail ballots out 40 and 28 days before an election. That’s a bit earlier than they do now. The proposal  would increase the time when voters can remedy a ballot that’s been questioned because the signature on the ballot doesn’t match the one on file at the elections office.  Current law says such a ballot “cure” has to happen  by 5 p.m. the day before Election Day. The bill would extend that time until 48 hours after the election.  It would also require that a Supervisor of Elections send a first-class letter to voters if the signature on a vote-by-mail ballot is questioned.   They would also be able to notify by email or text.

Ingoglia dismissed the Democratic complaints as “gamesmanship,” and said that it was “very hard to argue voter suppression in a state where you have upwards to 40 days of voting” when mixing in early voting, vote-by-mail voting, and of course, election day.

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