Leaders of the state Republican and Democratic parties crossed swords Wednesday over whether a controversial elections law caused the Election Day meltdown in some Florida counties — and whether the measure was a partisan attempt to deny President Barack Obama the state’s 29 electoral votes in his re-election campaign.
The clash happened during a panel discussion on elections reform during the annual Associated Press Legislative Planning Session, a meeting of newspaper editors and reporters.
The rift between the two parties could play into what changes are approved as part of an overhaul in the state’s voting rules after Florida became the last state in which a presidential winner was projected, something that happened days after Obama had locked up re-election.
The law, which passed as House Bill 1355 in 2011, has become a flashpoint in the debate over how to reform elections after some voters stood in line for hours this fall to cast their ballots.
Some Democrats say the law’s reduction in the number of days of early voting caused long waits during early voting, and that and other changes helped caused delays on Election Day itself.
“What’s crucial here is I think we need to admit that there was a partisan action in 2011 that Republicans did to try to basically game the system so they could get more votes and the Democrats would get less,” Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux said. “It didn’t work.”
But Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry said that wasn’t the case.
“I personally don’t believe that Republicans sat in a room and tried to figure out how to suppress the vote,” he said.
Curry also pointed to the decision by the U.S. Department of Justice under Obama to “preclear” the law under the Voting Rights Act, though that approval was only given after a lengthy legal battle that forced the state to make some concessions.
“If [DOJ] believed there was any desire to suppress the minority vote, there’s no way they would have precleared it,” Curry said.
And Senate Ethics and Elections Chairman Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said he had no partisan goal in mind voting for the legislation.
“It wasn’t my intent to suppress turnout or suppress anybody from voting,” Latvala said. But he also conceded that he was more closely focused on other legislation during the 2011 session.
Via Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.