Democracy Wins Again

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Posted on May 7, 2009 - 10:17am by Anonymous.

A couple of weeks ago we alerted you to a dangerous election bill that crept up in the final days of session. Many of you took swift action, thousands of e-mails were sent to House and Senate leadership as well as the governor. Great news- the bill has been defeated. Leadership declared the bill dead when there was widespread public outcry over this broad reaching bill.

I wanted to let you know a little more about this bill and why Equality Florida was involved in defeating it.

The bill, SB 956 and it's House companion HB 7149, were a serious threat to democracy. First, the bill was what is known as a "shell bill" for the first six weeks of session. This means that legislators file the bill but there is no actual content in the bill. The bill will say "Legislature expresses intent to reform laws relating to elections" but nothing else. In the case of SB 956, in the 7th week (of a 9 week session) this "shell bill" suddenly became over 80 pages long. It was then heard in a Senate Committee in the evening were public testimony was restricted and the bill moved on with a 5-3 party vote.

At 8am the next morning the bill was heard in the House and once again public testimony was restricted and so was debate between the legislators. Once again it moved forward based on a party line vote.

Seems shady to me.

All of this without even going into what the bill would actually do- and it did a lot. The Republican sponsored bill touched on almost every aspect of election law in Florida. Many wonder why there was such a sweeping election bill after one of the most successful elections Florida has had in recent years. Hmmm....

Here are just some of the things the bill did:
- Restricted the number of IDs voters could use at the polls
- Put almost all power over elections into the hands of the Florida Secretary of State, an unelected political appointee
- Mandated voter registration groups turn in registration forms in 48 hours, an almost impossible deadline
- Allow political committees formed in other states to be active in Florida without complying with Florida disclosure laws
- Allow legislators to form "leadership funds", which were outlawed in the mid-1990s because of fundraising abuse
- Make it illegal to offer legal advice to voters in line at their polling place

Read more about it here.

We believed this bill would have created many unnecessary obstacles for voters and for groups, like Equality Florida, who Linkparticipate in elections. Elections should be an open process- we shouldn't be making it more difficult for Floridians to practice this very fundamental right. If anything we need to make it easier and encourage more people to vote.

Equality Florida is proud to have worked with numerous other organizations, including the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the Florida ACLU and the AARP to defeat this bill.

I hope this explains a little more about why we chose, no, why we HAD, to get involved.

Thank you to everyone who took action against this terrible bill.

UPDATE: Read Pinellas Supervisor of Elections, Deborah Clark's letter to Legislators about SB 956

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