Associated PressTALLAHASSEE — After dueling allegations that it was either a “protection against voting fraud” or a “disenfranchisement act,” Florida lawmakers on May 5 approved a 157-page overhaul of the state’s elections code.

The House voted 77-38 along party lines to pass the bill (HB 1355); the Senate had voted 25-13 earlier in the day. Paula Dockery of Lakeland and Mike Fasano of New Port Richey were the only Senate Republicans to break ranks and vote against it.

The measure now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to sign it into law. Among other provisions, the bill reduces early voting time to one week and requires groups that sign up voters to register with the state.

Immediately after the vote, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson asked Scott to veto the bill.  If Scott signs it, Nelson said, he’ll ask the Justice Department to look into whether it violates federal voting-rights law.

“There are just too many questions about whether this measure would disenfranchise an untold number of Floridians,” Nelson said.

No matter their party affiliation, Floridians still smart over their state’s reputation from 2000, made famous by butterfly ballots, hanging chads and an aborted presidential-election recount.

Rep. Franklin Sands, a Weston Democrat, summed up the view of his colleagues in the House: “This is a mean-spirited attempt to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters and no more.”

Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said Democrats were getting off topic.

“Citizenship comes with responsibility,” Fresen said. “We’re coddling our voters as if they were children who don’t understand the responsibility of citizenship.”

As passed, the bill:
• Reduces the time for early voting from two weeks to one week, though it allows local elections officials to extend voting hours to a maximum of 12 per day.

Proponents say it is a money-saving move. Critics say it’s aimed at suppressing Democratic votes because statistics show more Democrats take advantage of early voting than Republicans.

• Requires groups that sign up new voters, such as the League of Women Voters, to register with the state, file regular reports and turn in completed voter-registration forms within 48 hours or face a $50 fine for each late form.

The president of the League of Women Voters of Florida has said her group might stop voter-registration work if the bill became law.

Backers say the measure will cut down voter fraud. Others say it’s a solution in search of a problem because there is almost no evidence of voter fraud in the state in recent years.

• Forces voters who have moved from one county to another in Florida to use provisional ballots instead of regular ballots if they want to update their name or address at the polling place.  A provisional ballot requires a person to later prove eligibility to vote for the ballot to count.

Democrats say many provisional ballots aren’t counted and the measure discriminates especially against college students. Republicans say the provision simply will prevent people from voting more than once.

• Reduces the “shelf life” for signatures on petition drives from four years to two years. Those for this provision say that people may feel coerced into signing and then change their minds.

Those against say it makes it harder for people to enact their own political changes.

Brad Ashwell, spokes-man for the Florida Public Interest Research Group, a progressive lobby, criticized the bill’s speed through the legislative process.

It was “as egregious as the substance of the bill, which will silence voters and discourage civic engagement,” he said.

Bill sponsor Rep. Dennis Baxley said he hoped it would encourage people to learn about issues and candidates and become meaningful voters.

“Don’t just show up,” the Ocala Republican said.

Sen. Mike Bennett said much the same on the floor of the Senate earlier that day.

“If you don’t know the date (or place where) you’re supposed to vote, how can you be an informed voter?” said Bennett, a Bradenton Republican.