Changes drive backers from vote bill

Published April 25, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - A bill that would schedule Florida's presidential primary on Jan. 29 and require a paper trail in elections took on a life of its own Tuesday, prompting criticism from the League of Women Voters and Democratic senators.

After Republicans added amendments dealing with voter registration and record-keeping by election supervisors, Democrats voted no on a bill that includes one of their priorities: paper trails.

"We took a good cleanup of our elections system and turned it into a political bill," said Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Sunny Isles.

The League of Women Voters, Common Cause and AFL-CIO all complained about an amendment that would reduce the fines for willful violations of a law by third-party groups that register voters, and would subject political parties to the same penalties.

"This makes it better than it is today," said Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden.

The League of Women Voters successfully challenged a similar law in court, and the state is appealing. The groups protested that the changes were being pushed through with so little debate.

"I can't understand why you are trying to make voter registration harder," said AFL-CIO president Cindy Hall.

The amended bill (SB 960-1010), which now heads to the full Senate for a vote, passed an appropriations committee on a 3-2 vote. The panel's chairman, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, voted yes.

The heart of the bill was barely discussed on Tuesday. That includes advancing the 2008 presidential primary to Jan. 29 and using nearly $28-million in federal money to help 15 counties switch from touch screen machines to optical scan ballots with a verifiable paper trail.

The bill also allows minors to preregister to vote when they get a Florida driver's license, rather than when they turn 17. The proposal was suggested by Hillsborough County's election supervisor Buddy Johnson.