Gov. Rick Scott, "with some hesitation," signed legislation Friday requiring Florida to create an online voter registration system by 2017. Scott's decision eased the concerns of legislators, election supervisors and voting rights advocates, who feared he would veto the bill because of the persistent opposition from Scott's chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
In a signing letter, Scott expressed concern about "the timing of required deliverables" that coincide with ongoing efforts to modernize the statewide voter database. "This system has been experiencing maintenance issues, which election supervisors have rightly cited as a challenge to their duties," Scott wrote. "Another concern relates to cyber security because added technology results in added challenges and vulnerabilities. Cyber attacks are on the front pages almost every day, and fraud and identification theft issues arise whenever a new avenue for information transmittal is created. While these challenges exist, I am confident that the Department and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will act carefully and prudently in developing needed protection for citizen information."
Scott added: "We must do everything possible to encourage 100 percent participation in elections, with zero percent fraud."
The bill (SB 228), sponsored by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, is the most significant piece of legislation sponsored by a Democrat to clear the governor's desk in the 2015 session. It requires Detzner to report to the Legislature by Jan. 1 on progress being made toward implementing the new system, which must be fully in place by October 2017. Lawmakers included $1.8 million in the bill to pay for the costs of implementation in an effort to overcome any financial opposition Scott might have had. The appropriation is subject to passage of a state budget.
"It is a great day for Floridians & I applaud @FLGovScott for his decision to sign this good bill!" Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian corley said on Twitter. Corley had correctly predicted two weeks ago that Scott would approve the bill.
Three times in the past few weeks, the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections had sought a face-to-face meeting with Scott to ease his concerns, but supervisors said the governor's office did not respond to the letters.
Detzner issued a statement that said that he "respects the decision of the governor and the Legislature on this bill ... The Department of State will commit 110 percent of its effort to ensure it is implemented correctly and safeguarded against security risks." Detzner told reporters last week that Scott did not seek his guidance or input on the bill, and Detzner's spokeswoman said Friday that that had not changed.
Detzner's repeated opposition to an online voter registration form played a role in the Senate's refusal to confirm him in the 2015 regular session. As a result, Scott was required to reappoint Detzner and he must be confirmed in the 2016 session or else he would have to resign.
The bill passed the House, 109-9, and the Senate, 37-3. All 12 legislators who opposed the bill are Republicans.