TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – The Florida House on Tuesday voted, once again, to overhaul the state's elections law, this time by partly undoing changes from 2011 that were blamed for confusion and long lines at the polls in the last election.
On the first day of the annual legislative session, House members approved 118-1 a bill (HB 7013) that increases the permitted days of early voting from eight to 14.
It allows early-voting polling places at more kinds of sites, like fairgrounds, civic centers and convention centers. And it sets a 75-word limit on proposed initial ballot summaries to constitutional amendments.
The bill also restores the possibility of early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, when blacks often vote after church in a tradition known as "souls to the polls.''
The perception of the state's voting process is a sore spot for many Floridians.
Desiline Victor became a symbol of early voting obstacles when the 102-year-old was forced to wait three hours on line to vote in Miami-Dade County in 2012. President Barack Obama later invited her to his State of the Union address.
And no matter their political leaning, Florida residents still smart over their state's reputation from 2000, made famous by hanging chads, butterfly ballots and an aborted presidential-election recount.
Two years ago, Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, led a drive to change voting laws. His bill, which was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott, reduced early voting time, cracked down on voter-registration drives and made voters use provisional ballots if they updated their name or address at the polling place.
"No election is ever going to be perfect,'' Baxley said on Tuesday. "They're always going to be close in Florida. But I believe this bill goes a very long way to correcting and preventing problems that can occur in the election process.''
House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican, told reporters that “the Legislature has some responsibility for some of the challenges we had in 2012.''
"That's why we passed (this bill) on the first day,'' he added. "We're not going to let any grass grow under our feet.''
House Democrats said they wanted more in the measure, citing online voter registration, automatic voter registration upon renewal of driver's licenses and a path to restoring felons' right to vote.
But the bill as passed is "a good first step,'' said Janet Cruz of Tampa, the top Democrat on the House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee.
Rep. Dwayne Taylor, a Daytona Beach Democrat, did complain that the bill contains no money to allow local supervisors of elections to get better equipment and hire more staff for longer early voting at more places.
"We've got to allocate those dollars because they're going to need them,'' he said.
A companion bill (SB 600) is now in the Senate and covers many of the same provisions as the House bill.
The lone vote against was cast by Rep. John Tobia , R-Melbourne Beach, who left the floor of the House right after the vote.
"We were all hoping for a unanimous vote,'' Weatherford said. "But people have their own positions on issues.''
*Pictured above is Desiline Victor.