TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - Florida voters hoping to register online will have to wait another year after the sponsor of a Senate bill that would have allowed Internet sign-ups essentially dropped the measure Monday.
With two prominent Republicans saying they would vote against the bill, and the possibility that the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee would defeat it, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, asked for the proposal to be shelved.
The chances that the measure (SB 784) would become law were already incredibly small. The House has not taken up any major elections legislation this session, leaving a wider Senate bill that included online voter registration (SB 1660) stalled. And a companion bill to Clemens' measure has gone nowhere in the House.
But passing the proposal through at least one committee would have opened up the possibility for it to be added to another bill as an amendment.
Critics of the measure said the bill was premature, given that the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections expects to develop recommendations about online registration for the Legislature and the secretary of state's office by the end of the year. Clemens' proposal would not call for online voter registration to begin until July 2015.
"This bill is not going to go very far this session," said Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. "I think we all know that. ... I'd be more inclined to hopefully look at it next year."
Sen. Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican set to become Senate president after the November elections, also said he was hesitant to take up the bill this year.
Clemens countered that the state would need time to set up a system to handle online registration; delaying the bill until the 2015 session means it could take even longer until citizens could sign up.
"With 19 other states already doing this, we're really behind the ball," Clemens said. "I'd hoped that this wouldn't become a partisan issue, because I don't see it as partisan. I think Republicans use the Internet just as much as Democrats do."
Senate Ethics and Elections Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, suggested that he could support the bill. Latvala successfully pushed Clemens to include language in the bill that would require voters who registered online to vote in person the first time after registering.
"I concur with you, personally, that this is an idea that's time has come," Latvala said. "I think that next year, we should have some serious conversation, serious debate and seriously look at this issue."
This report is by Brandon Larrabee with The News Service of Florida.
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