Voters not a priority for Florida Legislature
May/June 2005

May 14--State legislators cared more about pumping money into campaigns than protecting the interests of voters during a session that will make a lasting impact on the way Florida runs its elections.

The Legislature did away with the state's second primary, or runoff election, and took from the county elections supervisors the discretion to determine early voting periods. Although those two moves will make it more difficult for Floridians' voices to be heard, people with fat checkbooks got loudspeakers. Legislators allowed candidates for governor and the Cabinet to raise up to three times as much money and still qualify for taxpayer financing. The measure accelerates the statewide trend that is making the search for contributions more important than the search for good ideas. The spending cap in the governor's race goes from $6.3 million to an obscene $20 million, and Cabinet candidates can spend up to $10 million each. With Republicans far ahead of Democrats in fund-raising, the political calculation behind the Legislature's changes is obvious.

Lawmakers could have returned runoffs for 2006 after a six-year hiatus but voted instead to eliminate them permanently. Arguments that runoffs are too costly, too difficult for counties to run and too often ignored by voters obscured the most compelling reason for keeping them: They are good for democracy. Runoffs prevented fringe candidates from having undeserved influence on races and made it impossible for candidates to reach the general election without winning a majority of the vote...

Legislators limited early voting to eight hours a day on weekdays and an aggregate of eight hours on weekends for two weeks, ending the Sunday before Election Day. Floridians had a 15-day window for early voting before the primary and general election last year, and hundreds of thousands of them used it. Although supervisors lost the flexibility to make their own schedule, they could have lost much more. Attempts failed to consolidate broad powers to oversee elections in Tallahassee under the secretary of state, whom the governor appoints.

Excerpted from the Palm Beach Post's editorial.

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