Monday, January 22, 2018
Politics

Both sides right on Scott election reform

Gov. Rick Scott's recent call to expand early voting — two years after he signed a bill shrinking it — gave both sides of the political spectrum plenty to talk about.

Scott touted his plan as historic, allowing for "a potential of 168 hours, which I think is the most we've ever had."

Meanwhile, "Pink Slip Rick," a campaign organized by liberal activist group Florida Watch Action, tweeted a strikingly different take, saying Scott's proposal "is so vague that it only mandates 48 hours of early voting."

So how many hours does his proposal really call for — a record 168 or paltry 48? The answer takes a little explaining, but here's the takeaway: Both sides are right.

First, a little background: Gov. Jeb Bush signed early voting into law in 2004, giving voters 104 hours over 15 days to vote early. Despite pleas from election supervisors to add more time and voting sites, the Legislature cut the program to 96 hours over 14 days in 2005.

In 2008, amid historic turnout for the presidential election, Gov. Charlie Crist issued an executive order extending early voting to a total of 116 hours. Republicans criticized Crist, then one of their own, for trying to help Democrats, who experts say are more likely to vote early.

In 2011, Republicans reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to eight, with supervisors required to offer between six and 12 hours of early voting each day instead of simply eight hours. That meant local elections supervisors had to offer between 48 hours and 96 hours of early voting over eight days. In 2012, most went with the max, and Scott refused calls to add more early voting time.

On Jan. 17, Scott released three recommendations to lawmakers to improve the elections process: allow supervisors to offer early voting at more places than just city halls, libraries and elections offices; shorten proposed constitutional amendments; and expand early voting up to 14 days.

"What I think we ought to be doing is give the flexibility to our supervisors of elections, most of them, as you know, are elected county by county, but say you can do anywhere from eight to 14 days, six to 12 hours a day," Scott told South Florida-based WPLG-Channel 10, "so a potential of 168 hours, which I think is the most we've ever had."

So under his proposal, supervisors could provide a maximum of 168 hours of early voting (that's 14 days multiplied by 12 hours a day). The fewest number of hours would be 48 (eight days multiplied by six hours).

Florida Watch Action executive director Amy Ritter said Scott should have restored the number of early voting days back to 14.

"Anything less than that is not a promise to restore or expand early voting," Ritter said.

Scott's ideas largely mirror legislative recommendations of elections supervisors, said Brian Corley, Pasco County supervisor of elections.

"We kind of came to the conclusion that obviously, with Florida being such a huge and diverse state, one size does not fit all," Corley said.

Several supervisors told us they applauded the flexibility they could have under the law.

In Miami-Dade County, a spokeswoman for the supervisor's office said the county would likely offer 14 days with eight hours each day and eight total hours on the weekend, but offer more hours closer to a presidential election. A spokeswoman for Broward County's elections office said Broward might go with a similar strategy.

In Hillsborough County, supervisor Craig Latimer said the county has always offered the most hours for early voting that it could, and he could see offering the hypothetical max of 168 hours in a presidential election.

In tiny Franklin County, home to just over 7,000 Panhandle voters, elections supervisor Ida C. Elliott said the full 168 hours would not be feasible, citing overtime costs for workers and a lack of need. But even she wouldn't go to the minimum of 48 hours.

Getting back to our fact-checks, both sides make accurate claims, but cherry-pick the scenario that fits their interest.

Pink Slip Rick's statement reflects the fewest amount of hours a supervisor could offer under Scott's plan. But it omits the fact they could offer more than three times that amount. Pink Slip Rick's claim is Mostly True.

As for Scott, he correctly says his proposal gives supervisors the chance to offer "a potential of 168 hours … the most we've ever had." Scott's full statement includes more detail about the range of possible hours. We rate his statement True.

PolitiFact Florida staff writer Amy Sherman contributed. PolitiFact Florida is partnering with 10 News. See video fact-checks at WTSP.com/PolitiFact.

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