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Bill Aiming To Avoid A Repeat Of Florida's 2018 Election Gaffes Sparks Debate About Voter Access

Credit Jessica Palombo / WFSU News

A committee bill in the Florida house looking to make sweeping changes to the state’s election laws has cleared a key committee stop. A number of them would modify the state’s vote-by-mail procedure, which sparked a partisan debate about voter access.

“The 2018 election, once again and unfortunately placed Florida in the national spotlight. While most of our election officials and poll workers did an outstanding job following the law, others struggled to do so,” said Representative Blaise Ingoglia, who presented the bill in the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee Thursday.

The measure would make changes Ingoglia says would avoid future embarrassments to the state while increasing voter access. For starters, it would move the last day to request vote by mail ballots from six to 10 days out before election.

“Currently that standard is six days to request, and four days to mail out. And quite frankly, my opinion that’s just basically playing with fire,” Ingoglia said.

The bill also prohibits supervisors of election from mailing out ballots less than 8 days prior to the elections. And, it seeks to allow supervisors to mail domestic vote-by-mail ballots earlier than before, between 40 and 28 days out, Ingoglia says, “Instead of the current 35 to 28 days – therefor extending voting in the state by up to five extra days.”

Ingoglia’s plan lets voters drop off vote-by-mail ballots at a secure box at every early voting location. And, for voters who want to take a photo of their ballot to post on social media – which is currently illegal – the bill would decriminalize it.

Democratic Representative Geraldine Thompson filed 18 amendments to the proposal, all of which were deemed unfriendly to the bill by Ingoglia and ultimately struck down. Many of them were in response to gaffes that put Florida in national headlines for a cumbersome election.

“We have a federal court that has already ruled Florida’s signature matching provision and requirement is burdensome and tends to disenfranchise individuals,” Thompson said. “What this amendment proposes is an alternative to relying strictly on the signature match, and would allow the last four digits of a person’s social security number to be used as an alternative.”

Like many of the failed amendments Thompson filed, Ingoglia has a sharp rebuttal to the idea.

“I’m going to affectionately call this amendment, the amendment that launched a million stolen identities,” Ingoglia said.

Committee Democrats took objection to what they saw as the former state GOP chair and other republicans’ brushing off of Thompson’s ideas. Democratic Representative Cindy Polo pressed republicans on the issue.

“One of the issues that I have with, not necessarily the bill, but the way that we as a body have acted towards the amendments is, we talk a good game and say that we want to give access to voters and do everything that’s necessary,” Polo said. “But we started off by immediately labeling the amendments as unfriendly, even though I think there are many that we can agree upon.”

Polo countered Ingoglia’s assertions that the bill looks to expand voter access.

“Obviously we have made it very clear that voter access is a partisan issue,” Polo said. “And that saddens me.”

Ingoglia, meanwhile, stood his ground.

“I totally reject the idea that we are limiting access. We are expanding access in this bill.” Ingoglia said. “We are putting in place a structure where we can fix a lot of the problems we saw in the 2018 election.”

And, he addressed Polo’s accusation that voter access has become partisan by way of the measure.

“Now, it is no surprise that I am the past chairman for the Republican Party of Florida for four years,” Ingoglia said. “You do not see a lot of the issues in this bill that a lot of our grassroots, our rank and file, some of our attorneys would like to see in this bill – and there’s a reason for that. Because we’re trying not to make this partisan.”

Paul Lux heads the state’s association of elections supervisors, and is supervisor for Okaloosa County. He attended the committee meeting to support the bill.

“This bill addresses 11 of the remaining 13 items that supervisors of elections identified at our last association meeting as legislative priorities, and things we would like to see accomplished this year,” Lux said following the meeting.

And in response to the debate about whether the measure expands or erodes voter access, Lux sided with Ingoglia.

“It certainly helps expand access to voting,” Lux said.

The measure passed with a 13-4 vote – with Representative Joy Goff-Marcil as the lone Democrat voting for the measure. When the bill was heard earlier this month, it passed unanimously with bipartisan support.

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