Saturday, May 21, 2011

Change your plans last-minute early voters. Change to the voting schedule came swiftly, and without much notice.

Planning on early voting this Sunday after services?  Well, plan otherwise, you are not.  What has developed into the traditional last-day of early voting for those who cannot take time off for work week elections will now become a day of confusion and consternation as Miami-Dade elections department changed the schedule earlier this week to comply with a new elections law. This new election law in part, requires early voting to end three days before Election Day.  

In Florida, most new laws take effect on July 1st to provide notice and a cooling off period.  Why did the effective date of this new law need to be any different?  We are not talking about safety issues that require immediate resolution; we are talking about the cornerstone of democracy – the right and the accessibility of voting.

A lawsuit was filed by county mayoral candidate Marcelo Llorente, who was represented by noted elections lawyer and former state lawmaker J.C. Planas seeking to force the traditional last Sunday before the election early voting date.  The lawsuit was filed to argue that the elections department acted unconstitutionally when it did away with early voting scheduled for Sunday.

Former State Rep JC Planas
J.C. Planas maintained that the county went against the intent of the law by announcing early-voting hours in sample ballots mailed to all voters — and then changing the schedule without letting all voters know.

J.C. Planas made the essential point that Miami-Dade could have challenged any state mandate to make the new elections law take effect in the middle of early voting. Obviously the local Miami-Dade delegation failed to place any one-time exemption into the law, knowing that Miami-Dade County had this special election scheduled. The county also had notice that this law was passed on May 5, but failed to notice any voters during early voting until late last week.  Why the delay, especially where delay in notice risks denial of the ability to vote on the last early voting day?

“We should have sued the state together to block the implementation of this law,” he said.

A Miami-Dade judge dismissed the lawsuit contesting this 11th hour change in the election schedule allowing the county elections department to move ahead with the decision to cancel the traditional final day of early voting for Tuesday’s special election.

The new law was not passed by the Legislature until May 5, 2011.  It is also important to note that this bill was transmitted to the Governor on May 6, 2011, extremely fast by bill standards.  The bill could have waited an additional 10 days, until May 16, before being transmitted to the Governor.  That means the bill could have waited until after the early voting and this special election to be signed, avoiding this situation entirely.  But it wasn’t.  This new law was signed on May 19, effective immediately and affecting a voting schedule which was advertised long before the passage of this new elections law.

The county doubled early voting hours on Saturday (today, May 21) to make up for the loss of early voting hours. Early voting sites are open Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but closed Sunday. That’s great for those who are fortunate to get notice.  Maybe we will get some very informational robocalls from the candidates, if the robocall fatigued voters listen long enough to get the message.

Did you get this important voting information?  As reported in the Miami Herald, “The elections department informed candidates and issued public notices on the changes, but it did not send voters a new schedule or sample ballot.”

Click the headline to read the full Miami Herald online article: Miami-Dade politics - Judge: No early votingSunday in Miami-Dade election

Constitutional or not, those traditional procrastinators who wait until the last day of a weekend to vote, who cannot traditionally take off on voting day during the work day, will not be able to vote.  Those who relied on the County elections department mailers and prior advertisements, who do not or are not savvy enough to read the Miami Herald or watch/listen to the local media outlets will be greeted by a notice posted at the formerly designated elections site which will indicate to them that they were victims of last minute changes.

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