As early voting surges, pressure mounts on Gov. Scott to extend it a day
TALLAHASSEE -- The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan political organization, has joined state Democrats in urging Gov. Rick Scott to expand early voting to include Sunday.
In a letter sent to Scott this afternoon, League president Deirdre Macnab cited reports of six hour waiting times in Miami-Dade and two hours in line to vote in Palm Beach County as reasons why an extension of early voting is warranted.
"Floridians are continuing to turn out in record numbers to take advantage of the opportunity to vote early in this important general election," Macnab wrote. "This phenomenon, resulting from an increase in the number of registered voters since 2008, reductions in the number of days available to early vote and the unprecedented length of this year's ballot have resulted in long lines and extended wait times in many counties.
"The League is asking you to extend early voting hours to include Sunday, November 4, for counties with high voter traffic. Our goal is to ensure that the voting process is timely, accessible and convenient for every eligible voter who wants to cast a ballot. As you are aware, when faced with heavy early voting traffic in 2008, former Governor Charlie Crist protected the rights of Florida's voters by augmenting early voting hours."
The League was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that challenged new restrictions in early voting and registration drives approved by Scott and Republican lawmakers. A federal judge threw out part of the law's provisions that required groups to turn in registration forms 48 hours after getting them filled out, but upheld the rest of the law.
Today's request to expand early voting was the first one lodged by the League since voting began. Earlier on Thursday, Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith and former state senator Dan Gelber made a similar request.
"When you signed House Bill 1355, you shortened the early voting period from 2008 levels by nearly a week, and by as much as 72 hours in some parts of our State," Gelber wrote Scott. "Today the result of that action is seen in the longest voting lines that many Floridians have ever had to endure. In parts of Florida many citizens – including veterans and seniors – have had to to wait for as many as 5 hours to simply express the most fundamental right guaranteed to them in a democracy. In my own City of Miami Beach, an elderly African American women passed out in front of city hall over the weekend after waiting in excess of an hour in the hot sun. An ambulance took her away."
Before the League weighed in, Republicans pushed back against what they described as a partisan attack by Democrats.
"Florida has a law in regard to early voting--this law provides for 96 hours of operation for early voting locations, the exact same amount of hours as 2008," said Mike Grissom, executive director of the Republican Party of Florida in a statement. "That same law was approved by President Obama's Department of Justice. The fact is simple as this: more Floridians have cast a ballot as of 5 days out than in 2008. For one side to demand that we break the law because they feel like they are losing is wrong."
Actually, the new law caps access to 12 hours a day for a total of 96 hours. In 2008, Crist expanded early voting hours to a total of 120.
Last week, Scott told reporters during a news conference that he would wait to evaluate how voting goes before he decides to expand early voting. Asked today about Scott's response to the new requests, his office referred questions to Chris Cate, the spokesman for the Division of Elections, who then released this statement: "The State has early voting laws in place to increase opportunities for voter participation, and supervisors of elections report it is going well. Any voter in line when the polls close – during early voting and on Election Day – will be allowed to cast a ballot. We encourage Floridians to go vote."
Other top Republicans defended the hours as they exist now.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican who helped to kick off a two-day GOP bus tour promoting early voting, said he saw no reason to extend early voting times.
"There's no unusual circumstances," Putnam said. "There's no weather-related events. There's nothing out there in the state of Florida
right now that would create the basis for an emergency order for the governor to produce."
Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who joined Putnam on the eight-city bus tour, also said she saw no reason to extend early voting, but she emphasized she could not speak for Gov. Scott.
"We still have days to vote. It's not the end yet, and we certainly have election day as well, that people can turn out and vote," Carroll said.
Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, the incoming Senate president, scoffed at the notion that Democrats were complaining about how long the lines are at early voting centers.
"Aren't these the same people who were running around the state saying the changes to early voting amounted to voter suppression?" Gaetz said. "So now we're seeing a historically high level of turnout, and they're complaining."