SB 848 A Key Test Of Legislators’ Respect for Voters and Democracy

The right to vote and access to exercising that right are fundamental to the establishment of representative democracy. Senate Bill 848, sponsored by Sen. Nan Rich, is essential to helping Florida move forward towards representative democracy.
 
March 22, 2011 - PRLog -- The right to vote and access to exercising that right are fundamental to the establishment of representative democracy. The Florida Initiative for Electoral Reform (FLIER) believes that Senate Bill 848, sponsored by Sen. Nan Rich, is essential to helping Florida move forward towards representative democracy. The bill would give local officials flexibility in designating a broad array of facilities as early voting sites, provide for a minimum number of early voting locations based on the number of registered voters, and expand early voting hours from eight to twelve hours on weekdays and from eight to twelve hours in aggregate on weekends.

The need for such legislation arises particularly in the wake of the 2008 election when record turnout found access to be lacking. The number of early voting sites varied wildly from county to county. While Duval County had fifteen sites for 536,588 registered voters and Hillsborough had thirteen sites for 701,464 registered voters, Pinellas County, with 643,424 registered voters, offered early voting at only three sites. Such inconsistency may have lowered turnout during early voting. While Duval County voters cast more than 183,000 ballots and Hillsborough County voters cast more than 146,000 ballots, Pinellas County voters cast only 46,368 ballots. High turnout, limitations on early voting hours and sites, and delays from on demand ballot printing resulted in long lines and wait times, sometimes up to eight hours. Governor Crist proclaimed a state of emergency and issued Executive Order 08-217 extending early voting hours.

FLIER sees the success or failure of SB 848 as a key test of legislators’ respect for voters and representative democracy. “This bill will certainly allow the public to see who merely talks and who actually walks in seeking to build representative democracy in Florida,” FLIER President Yury Konnikov said. FLIER believes the positive effects of the legislation are non-partisan and its passage would be entirely in the public’s interest. If enacted SB 848 may increase the percentage of voters during early voting and reduce the number who vote on Election Day, thereby reducing strain and pressure on elections officials and poll workers. It would also reduce the use of provisional ballots, including those cast outside of a voters’ precinct and then rejected.

SB 848 is currently resting in the Florida Senate’s Rules Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections. The Chair, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, represents Senate District 36 in Miami-Dade County. Considering that in 2008 many Miami-Dade County early voting locations were reported to have wait times in excess of four hours, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, among other legislative leaders, would do well by his constituents and all Floridians by bringing SB 848 to the fore.

FLIER’s pamphlet of recommended reforms, “Resuscitating Democracy: Competition, Pluralism, and Representation in Florida”, includes an excellent contribution by the Advancement Project detailing the need and benefits of such legislation. As Elizabeth Westfall and Carolyn Thompson write, “During the 2011 session, legislation should be enacted to increase flexibility in the types of facilities that may be used for early voting, ensure adequate, uniform access to early voting across counties, and increase voter access to early voting to meet demand.”

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The Florida Initiative for Electoral Reform is a non-partisan coalition of groups and individuals recognizing the need for electoral reforms to enrich and expand democracy in our state and its localities. In addition to advocacy, we seek to provide education on electoral reform and the policy solutions necessary to realize it. We are working towards a vibrant democracy with accessibility for the average person, a competitive political environment, and pluralism in policy and decision making. For more information please visit http://www.floridaelectoralreform.org or e-mail info@floridaelectoralreform.org.
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Tags:Politics, Florida, Early Voting, Advancement Project, Sb 848, Nan Rich, De La Portilla, Electoral Reform, Democracy
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