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Senate bill sets early primary

A panel passes the bill, which ties a Jan. 29 primary to paper trails.

Published April 18, 2007


TALLAHASSEE -- For the first time this session, the Senate on Tuesday showed enthusiasm for an earlier presidential primary in Florida, and tied a new date of Jan. 29 to mandatory paper trails in elections.

The Senate Ethics & Elections Committee passed a bill that would move the primary from early March to Jan. 29 in hopes of making Florida more relevant in the nominating process.

The House has passed a bill moving the primary to Feb. 5 or one week after the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary, whichever comes first.

The conflict in dates will be settled between the chambers. Gov. Charlie Crist generally supports either date, and has said paper trails are a high priority.

Paper trails have broad bipartisan support, and momentum for the change increased after a disputed congressional election in Sarasota County that revealed more than 18,000 undervotes on touch screens - a statistical aberration. But a state audit of the machines showed no evidence of malfunction.

Until Tuesday, the House showed little interest in replacing touch screen machines with optical scanners in all 67 counties, at a cost of nearly $30-million, by the 2008 general election.

But a House council took the first major step to require a paper trail in future elections, though it did not provide the money.

The timing was no accident.

The Senate bill SB 960/1010 adds a host of election provisions, some of them sure to be controversial, such as restricting the forms of ID that a voter can show at the polls.

Ben Wilcox of the watchdog group Common Cause described the bill as "the good, the bad and the truly ugly," and said it deserved more than a few minutes of discussion.

The bill also would require an online database of all actions by the Florida Elections Commission, searchable by name or issue.

Another change would require a person making an election law complaint to have "personal information" of the facts. Most complaints are filed against elected officials or candidates and some are based on news accounts or hearsay.

A third change would require write-in candidates to pay a fee to run for office, equal to 0.5 percent of the annual salary of the office being sought. For a state legislative seat, the fee would be about $150.

Election supervisors from Miami-Dade, Polk and Okaloosa counties said more study was needed of a provision to create a statewide "ballot-on-demand" system that would allow a custom ballot to be printed for every voter.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

[Last modified April 17, 2007, 22:56:00]

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