The Senate version of a controversial elections overhaul passed its last committee stop today.
The measure approved in a 12 to 7 vote by the Senate budget committee cuts in half the 14-day early voting time and makes it harder for grass roots groups to register new voters. Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, joined the committee’s six Democrats in opposing the proposal, which has been criticized as an attempt by Republicans to maintain their dominance. The House has already passed similar legislation. A previous version of the Senate proposal required all voters with name or address changes on election day to vote with a provisional ballot. But senators changed the measure to allow people who have moved within their county to vote with a regular ballot. Voters coming from a different county would still have to vote provisionally. Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, the Miami Republican who sponsored the legislation, said he’d consider increasing the early voting time in the bill to nine days. Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Aventura, pushed for an amendment to restore early voting to 14 days. It failed. Diaz de la Portilla said “the evidence is very very clear” that most early voting takes place in the last seven days ,not the first seven days, which he called “a waste of money.” Margolis said she could never consider that expenditure a waste of money. ”It’s just a few thousand dollars a day and it’s well worth it,” she said. The committee meeting was fast-approaching its end when the elections measure was taken up. A number of critics who showed up to speak against the bill were cut off so that senators could vote on the measure. Otherwise, with no more committee meetings, the proposal would have died. Sen. J.D. Alexander, the committee chairman, said he did not want to allow “protracted discussion” to kill the measure. “I think it was important to vote the bill, which is what we did,” he said after the meeting.