Say the words “fraud,” “Miami” and “grand jury” in the same breath, and you’re going to get people’s attention in Tallahassee. Especially when the subject is voting. Miami-Dade State Attorney Kathy Fernandez Rundle wants the Legislature to reinstate an old Florida law requiring voters to obtain a witness signature from someone 18 or older in order to cast an absentee ballot. It’s one of 23 recommendations from a Dade grand jury that investigated the practice of absentee ballot brokering in last year’s primary election. The witness requirement, enacted after a 1998 absentee voting scandal in Miami, was wiped off the books in 2004. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, revives the requirement in SB 600, saying the prosecutor lobbied him to do so. (Witnesses’ signatures would not have to be verified.) With the voting bill set for Senate floor debate today, county election supervisors think the witness-signature requirement is a terrible idea. They fear it would disenfranchise voters — especially military personnel.
Thousands of absentees were rejected in Florida last fall because voters neglected to sign their ballots’ outside envelope or because a signature on the envelope did not match the voter’s signature on file. Requiring a witness signature would make things worse, supervisors say.
Mike Bennett, supervisor of elections in Manatee County and a former Republican senator, said he doesn’t think the provision can survive. “I really think that will come out (of the bill),” he said, “because there’s been such a pushback from the supervisors.”