The bill now floating through both chambers overhauls much of the controversial elections bill of 2011 — the one that critics said was designed to suppress the votes of Obama supporters in 2012 — but it doesn't go nearly far enough for Senate Democrats.
One amendment offered by Orlando Democrat Darren Soto that appeared to anger Republicans would repeal a provision that prohibits voters who have moved out of the county listed on their drivers license from casting a regular ballot. The current law says they must vote provisionally, which means those votes are not counted on election night.
Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections head Brian Corley from Pasco County said that a survey of 43 of Florida's 67 counties revealed between 8,000-9,000 voters cast provisional ballots on Election Day.
But Soto said that number didn't take into account how many voters became discouraged when their names did not come up on the computer system at their polling place on election day and could have turned around and walked away.
Committee chair Latvala wondered if the supervisors would be amenable to allowing voters to cast a regular ballot if they had access to an electronic poll book that lists all eligible voters at the time, allowing them to ferret out any potential fraud. Corley said he could be. "Anything that gets us to tabulate votes quicker," he said.
Jacksonville area GOP Senator John Thrasher said there's "no evidence that any supervisor of elections has said this is a problem," and tried to move on, saying that it was "political" to pursue the issue any further.
But Lake Worth Democratic Senator Jeff Clemens refused to knuckle under, saying that two years ago when he was in the House he requested that the provision exempt members of the military and college students. He said later the military was exempted, but not college students. "It's up to us to take back that bad language," he insisted.
Orlando GOP Senator Andy Gardiner then snapped at Clemens that he appreciated "your history of the House, but welcome to the Senate."
Democrats also take issue with the fact that the bill does not restore early voting to 14 days as they have been calling for. Instead it gives discretion to supervisors of election to set the window at anywhere from eight to 14 days.
The bill does expand possible voting sites for an election, making it okay to place polling booths in state fairgrounds, civic centers, convention centers, courthouses, county commission buildings and stadiums.
After the bill passed on a party line vote, Scott Arceneaux, the Florida Democratic party's executive director, blasted out an angry response, saying, "Florida Republicans have once again signaled to the people of Florida that they are unwilling to fix the elections mess they have created. Whether it was the passage of the voter suppression law or Rick Scott's refusal to extend the voting hours, the Florida GOP have made a mockery of our elections system. Today they refused to fully fix the problems they created with commonsense reforms to ensure we never faced the disastrous 2012 elections again. This half-hearted attempt by Republicans to address elections reforms is nothing short of shameful and comes at the expense of Floridian's fundamental right to participate in the democratic process."