Proposed legislation would compel Governor to move faster on legislative vacancies

The Governor’s power to set Special Election dates would get clipped according to a bill proposed Thursday from lawmakers spurred to action after an unprecedented delay in getting current vacancies filled.

After U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings died last April, Gov. Ron DeSantis did not moved to set election dates until lawsuits asked a judge to force him to act. The result: the longest congressional vacancy in U.S. history, according to some analyses, and early voting that started on New Year’s Day 2022, a postal holiday.

State Sen. Tina Polsky and State Rep. Ben Diamond Thursday announced they’ve filed companion bills (SB 1586 and HB 1217to get DeSantis and subsequent governors moving faster.

The bills call for a Special Election to be held no later than 180 days after a vacancy has occurred.

In contrast, a successor to Hastings to represent Florida’s 20th Congressional District will not be official until 280 days after his death.

The Primary Election came 210 days after Hastings’ death.

Three state lawmakers from Broward and Palm Beach counties who resigned to run for the open congressional seat announced their resignations in July, but the Primary Election for those seats are coming six months later, on Tuesday. As a result, their successors are likely not to be seated during this upcoming Session.

The delays in filling the vacant seats are unprecedented and this legislation has never been needed before, said Polsky of Boca Raton.

“This is a clear and obvious attempt to make partisan gains through disenfranchisement and obstruction,” Polsky said. “It is a stain on the American system of representative government which SB 1586 aims to scrub clean.”

The Governor’s Office did not return a request for comment on the legislation Thursday.

CD 20 and the resulting vacancies in Senate District 33 and House Districts 88 and 94 could have been filled with one Special Primary Election and one Special General Election. Instead, there are three different election dates — costing taxpayers millions, Polsky said.

These bills would also amend the voting bill passed last year. Both bills would also change the current vote-by-mail law. The bill would allow people to register to vote and request a mail-in-ballot with one form, instead of the current two. And, once registered to vote by mail, voters could check off a request to vote by mail for the next election cycle when they mail in their vote.

“Vote by mail is here to stay and we might as well make it more efficient,” said Broward County Elections Supervisor Joe Scott. “Let’s take some basic streaming steps to make it an easier process.”

Diamond of Clearwater said it’s an urgent matter: “Our freedom to vote is fundamental to our democracy. As lawmakers, and as Americans, it is our responsibility to ensure our fellow citizens have a voice in their government.”

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