Florida GOP Pushes Controversial Changes To Voting Laws In the 2008 presidential election, early voting in Florida helped Barack Obama carry the state. Now, Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature is considering a bill that would slash the number of days allowed for early voting. Says one Florida Democrat: "It's Machiavellian."
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Fla. GOP Pushes Controversial Voting Law Changes

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Fla. GOP Pushes Controversial Voting Law Changes

Fla. GOP Pushes Controversial Voting Law Changes

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The next presidential election is still a year and a half away, but members of Florida's legislature are already jockeying over who will be able to vote and how.

As NPR's Greg Allen reports, Republicans want to adopt a number of measures that would, among other things, slash the number of days for early voting.

GREG ALLEN: As the nation learned in 2000, the way voting is conducted in Florida can sometimes be chaotic and contentious. To help bring order to the process, Florida began allowing voters to go to the polls early. And it was a big success. In the 2008 presidential election, about a third of those who cast ballots did so in early voting.

It was so popular, in fact, there were long lines, such as at this library in Miami-Dade County, where the wait was too much for Martha Torres.

Ms. MARTHA TORRES: I'm leaving.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TORRES: I think I'm going to vote some other day.

ALLEN: What'd they tell you when you went in?

Ms. TORRES: Well, it's like an hour waiting in a pre-room, and then going upstairs and waiting another hour.

ALLEN: Post-election analysis showed that early voters were particularly important to Democrats, to help presidential candidate Barack Obama carry the state.

Going to the polls early is a success with voters and also with county elections supervisors. They say in years with big turnouts - presidential elections, for example - early voting acts as a relief valve that makes Election Day much more manageable.

So why, you may wonder, are Republicans in Florida's Senate proposing to slash the time for early voting in half, cutting it from 14 to seven days?

Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla says it's about efficiency and saving money.

State Senator MIGUEL DIAZ DE LA PORTILLA (Republican, Miami-Dade): By shortening that time frame, you save local governments a lot of money and administrative expenses.

ALLEN: Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican from Miami, explained his bill to senators at a hearing in Tallahassee last week. He never indicated that he had any recollection of the long lines in early voting in 2008. He did acknowledge, though, that next year's presidential election may be even busier than in 2008, when three-quarters of registered voters in Florida cast ballots.

State Sen. DE LA PORTILLA: I don't think the problem generally has been that there are so many voters that they can't be accommodated. I think generally speaking, the problem has been that there is very low turnout in elections.

ALLEN: It's the kind of, shall we say, non-fact-based statement that sometimes pops up in Florida's legislature, where Republicans have a supermajority and where Democrats are largely irrelevant.

Irrelevant or not, Senator Gwen Margolis, a Democrat also from Miami-Dade, questioned Diaz de la Portilla's motives.

State Senator GWEN MARGOLIS (Democratic, Miami-Dade): If you think of what the presidential elections were the last time and how many hours our voters stood in line, and think of only having one week to do it in it's, to me, it's Machiavellian.

ALLEN: It's one of several measures to revamp election rules that Democrats and watchdog groups say will disenfranchise many voters. Another imposes new restrictions and potential fines on independent groups that conduct voter registration drives.

In a year when the Republican Party has strengthened its control in state legislatures across the country, many states, like Florida, are considering changes to their voting laws. More than 30 states, for example, are considering bills that would strengthen rules requiring people to show photo IDs in order to vote.

After the contested 2000 presidential election, Bob Brandon, of the Fair Elections Legal Network, says many states adopted reforms aimed at making voting more convenient.

Mr. BOB BRANDON (President and Co-Founder, Fair Elections Legal Network): I think what's going on around the country is really a step back. They're really turning back the clock to, you know, darker days when there was an effort to really stop people from voting.

ALLEN: In Florida, the proposed election changes are still in flux and may not become clear until the House and Senate decide on a final version later this month.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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