So far, lawmakers tasked with fixing Florida’s elections issues have focused on long lines and wait times, not the administrative and equipment trip-ups that plagued counties like St. Lucie. The Legislature kicks off its two-month lawmaking marathon Tuesday, but there’s still no official push to let the state crack down harder on elections supervisors who bungle their duties. The top lawmaker delving into elections reform, Sen. Jack Latvala, has stressed the idea does warrant discussion. “I do think this is an issue that we’re going to want to debate in this committee as we put this bill together,” Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, told the Ethics and Elections Committee he chairs on Feb. 5. But Sen. President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, stressed that it’s not a top concern. “I don’t know that giving the governor or the state more authority to remove someone takes the place of having someone who can actually do the job,” Gaetz said.
The House elections overhaul bill — HB 7013 — limits the number of words for constitutional amendments, expands the eligible locations for early voting and lets supervisors offer up to 14 days of early voting, including the Sunday before the election. It doubles back on a controversial 2011 GOP bill best known for deleting early voting days.
The Senate still hasn’t fleshed out a comprehensive reform proposal. At least 16 other bills are on the table, even one suggesting that everyone who’s eligible should be automatically registered to vote.
In terms of accountability, however, the toughest bill so far only requires supervisors to send an extra report to the state before elections.
Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, has been one of the most vocal Tallahassee voices in criticizing St. Lucie Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker over her performance. Harrell has said she wants more set standards for supervisors, additional required reports on elections preparation and, where it’s possible, enhanced state power to penalize supervisors who miss the mark.
In St. Lucie, several memory cards holding vote counts failed election night. Thousands of votes initially were double-counted or weren’t counted at all, and a rogue box of 306 votes emerged days after Nov. 6. The tight, heated District 18 battle between U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy and ex-congressman Allen West erupted into court battles and recounts amid the mishaps. St. Lucie missed its deadline to report updated recount results by 8 seconds, though no race outcomes would’ve changed.