Activists lobby for voting law changes

Florida Legislature seems receptive to longer early voting, other changes

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - When the 2013 legislative session begins next week, Florida lawmakers will be greeted by civil rights groups demanding changes to voting laws.

Activists who say long lines and outdated laws kept people from voting in the November 2012 presidential election are already in Tallahassee looking for support of a bill that would extend early voting and make otherwise ease the voting process.

Crowded around a lectern in front of a voting office Thursday, more than a dozen civil rights leaders laid out their election reform plan.

"We have a situation where whole segments of the population are disenfranchised from the voting process," said Phelicia Steill, of the National Congress of Black Women.

The group wants 14 days of early voting, the right to vote on the Sunday before an election and automatic restoration of voting rights for former felons.

"(We) believe that the voting system has instead been carefully constructed to disenfranchise young black and brown people," said Ciara Taylor, of Dream Defenders.

Four months after the election that featured long lines outside south Florida voting precincts on national television, state lawmakers seem to be in the mood to change voting laws to shorten the wait times.

Most of what the group is asking for is laid out in a bill sponsored by Sen. Oscar Braynon, who says he drafted the bill in honor of Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old Miami woman who waited six hours to vote.

Victor was honored by President Barack Obama during his State of Union address earlier this month.

"She was told the wait to vote might be six hours. As time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say," Obama said.

The Desiline Free and Fair Democracy Act would create a system of automatic voter registration and allow people to change their voting information at the polls on Election Day.

An elections reform bill has already passed a House committee. The Senate is preparing to pass a bill giving supervisors of elections the authority to make their own early voting schedules.

That provision concerns civil rights leaders, who fear the flexibility would lead to voter suppression in some counties.

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