State Rep. Geri Thompson, D – Windermere, one of the most experienced Democrats in Tallahassee, is urging her colleagues in the Florida Legislature to pass a series of election reforms sooner rather than later.
“We are talking about the 2020 elections being right around the corner and this is our window of opportunity to make some changes,” Thompson said this week. “We’ve been trying to streamline our voting process since Bush v Gore, since 2000. This is 2019 and we still are having problems.”
Thompson held a town hall at Windermere High School on Wednesday night to discuss what she sees as many problems with Florida’s elections– and calling for some major reforms. Thompson suggests that Florida’s secretary of state should be an elected position, not an appointed one as it is currently. She said having the secretary of state accountable to the voters would ensure Tallahassee would not conduct purges of the voter rolls, the way previous secretaries of states have at the direction of the governor. There are efforts in Tallahassee to return the secretary of state to an elected post, including a proposal from state Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville.
Changing the secretary of state back to an elected could change could the way vote by mail ballot signatures are verified. Thompson told Florida Daily that often times poll workers are not qualified to determine whether or not a signature should be valid.
“These are people who do not have training in handwriting analysis,” Thompson said. “We know that banks, for example, have machines that do signature verification. So is that something that our supervisors of elections could benefit from and would take some of the subjectivity out of it?”
The Republican controlled Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis aren’t exactly hot on the idea of requiring more training or forcing supervisors of elections to buy electronic equipment designed to authenticate signatures.
Lake County Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays is a former state senator and long time legislative expert. The Umatilla Republican did not see a huge problem.
“Is it important? Absolutely,” Hays told Florida Daily. “Is it deserving of all of the outcry that is being stirred up? I really don’t think so, when you consider there were eight million votes cast and there were fewer than 5,000 that were disallowed because of signature mismatches. I haven’t done the math on that but it is a very, very small, miniscule percentage.”
Of course one of those 5,000 was former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., best known for his 2016 bid for the U.S. Senate. Thompson mentioned Murphy’s case to make the point that better decisions on signatures can and should be made. Murphy was not notified when his ballot was rejected.
“If there is a problem, we have 67 counties and are all of them consistently notifying the voters to say we have a problem with your ballot,” Thompson said. “You need to come in, rectify it, and cure it by a date certain.”
Hays said the ability to train election canvassing boards is more likely to be adopted.
“The training for that verification is something that can be easily done, and has been done at our Association of Supervisors annual meeting,” Hays said.
One large question for the Legislature this year concerns allowing ballots after Election Day. Thompson says any reform package should include allowing vote by mail ballots to count if they are postmarked on or before Election Day. Other states have adopted this change and former US Sen. Bill Nelson,D-Fla., asked the courts to count these ballots in his withdrawn lawsuit challenging the Senate election he lost to Republican Rick Scott. Florida accepts ballots for active duty military members serving overseas for up to ten days after the election.
Reach Mike Synan at Mike.Synan@floridadaily.com.