Committee nixes additional funds for voting reform

A House appropriations bill amendment seeking $14 million in increased funding for additional voting reforms was defeated in committee Friday, despite claims from one of the bill’s Democratic sponsors that the state hadn’t “done all of the job.”

At the meeting of the House Fiscal Responsibility Council, Rep. Doug Wiles, D-St. Augustine, announced that he was in disbelief in what he was hearing from the committee after Rep. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) touted last year’s election reform package and blasted the amendment.

“We spent $20 million last year and yet we want to put more money in before we see the results of the money we already spent,” Fasano said. “Do we want to take money from important road projects in your districts to fund this amendment when we’ve already spent $20 million to address this problem?”

The amendment, which failed on a 15-8 vote along party lines, sought to provide funding for voting systems assistance by rerouting general revenue appropriations from road construction projects.

Wiles countered that the funding for a voter database proposed last year, as well as the language for a voters’ bill of rights, had not been completed.

“I am disturbed greatly that this budget does not include one dime for voting systems assistance,” Wiles said. Bill co-sponsor Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami insisted voters are still angry about the voting irregularities of the 2000 election.

Wilson said that many of the recommendations made by last year’s legislative voting reform task force had not been carried out. Leon County supervisor of elections Ion Sancho noted that only the smaller counties received 100 percent funding from state grants. Larger counties like Dade must make up the difference through their tax base.

Sancho said this has created a huge gap in the execution of voting reforms, as many of the larger counties don’t have the money available to buy updated voting machines, as required by law.

“I really think the state should do more for voter education. The state really needs to step forward,’ Sancho said. “$35 million is spent on ads for how to play the lottery and $0 is spent on ads promoting voter education.”

Common Cause director Ben Wilcox said he thought last year’s voting reform package was pretty good at the time, but added that there may be a need to train people to use new voting technology and train poll workers in election laws.

The overall $48 billion spending plan passed through committee and will be submitted to the full House for a vote some time this week.

Sancho warned that voting against additional money would handicap local supervisors of elections, as redistricting will deny them knowledge of the design of new districts until late this summer.

“This was something the legislature didn’t understand last year, the impact of redistricting on this year’s election cycle,” Sancho said.