Elections supervisors could be punished under bill
Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 4:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 4:01 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Elections supervisors would be called out by the secretary of state for not doing their jobs and have a portion of their pay docked under a provision added to an elections bill Tuesday.
The Senate made several changes to an elections bill the House passed on the first day of the legislative session, including language that would allow the secretary of state to send a notice of non-compliance to elections supervisors if they don't report results on time or fail to follow other legal requirements. Elections supervisors could also have $2,000 in special qualification pay withheld.
The amendment was proposed by Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla of Miami, who has criticized the way his county's election supervisor, Penelope Townsley, handled the 2012 election. Miami-Dade County had early voting lines as long as five hours and the last ballots weren't cast on Election Day until more than six hours after polls closed.
"It's not about removal from office, only the governor can do that," Diaz de la Portilla said. "All this does is it allows the secretary of state to have perhaps a little bit more clout in dealing with the supervisors."
But Democrats criticized the idea. Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, said Diaz de la Portilla came up with the proposal out of frustration for his local supervisor and that the rest of the state shouldn't be punished.
Others disapproved of allowing an official appointed by the governor to be able to punish an official elected by citizens. Of Florida's 67 counties, only Miami-Dade has an appointed elections supervisor.
"I'm concerned about politicizing the office of supervisor of election," said Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner said he supports the idea.
"As the chief elections officer I'm held accountability for a lot of issues that I don't have a lot of control over," Detzner said. "It strengthens the relationship between the secretary of state and the supervisors and I think it can be a very positive development."
The House and the Senate agree the state should expand early voting days and allow supervisors more flexibility on where that balloting can take place. After the Republican-led Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott cut early voting days from 14 to eight during the 2011 session, both chambers have proposed requiring at least eight and as many as 14.
Democrats offered a slew of amendments to the bill, but nearly all were rejected by Republicans. One that was approved would allow voters to change their address at the polls with a normal ballot if the county they moved from and their new county have electronic voting books. Now, voters have to cast provisional ballots to ensure they aren't casting votes at more than one address.
The measure also would prohibit paid ballot collectors from having more than two ballots in their possession other than their own or members of their families. It also would move up the primary from 12 to 10 weeks before the general election and require a written request for an absentee ballot to be sent to an address other than those already listed for voters.
It would also require that anyone helping a voter because of disability or language issues be previously known to the voter, and that no person can assist more than 10 voters. Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, unsuccessfully sought to strip that language from the bill, saying Haitian voters in his district often rely on people to help them read ballots, and the provision would make that more difficult.
The Senate likely will vote on the bill next week. If passed, it would then go back to the House.