TAMPA — State Rep. Darryl Rouson announced Wednesday he will submit a bill to expand early voting in response to long lines and delays in Florida's vote counting during last week's election.
His bill would restore early voting from the eight days in place now to the 14 days that were in place before this year, including the Sunday before Election Day. It also would allow non-government buildings to be used as early voting sites to expand the number of locations, among other measures.
"No state in this country, let alone Florida, should ever require people to stand in line and vote at 1 a.m.," Rouson said at a news conference in downtown Tampa, where he announced the bill. "Florida was the laughingstock of the nation again this year when it came to voting.
"We ought to be tired of that."
Rouson, a Democrat, was joined by a handful of other Democrats, as well as former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who offered his support, saying it should be a bipartisan priority.
"It is not a partisan issue. It's a non-partisan issue. It's a people issue," said Crist, who works for the same law firm as Rouson. "This is about a fundamental exercise of democracy in our state, and the people having the opportunity to exercise their right to vote."
Crist became an independent two years ago in an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate against Republican Marco Rubio. There is speculation he will become a Democrat and challenge sitting Republican Gov. Rick Scott two years from now.
As he has previously, Crist ducked questions about whether he is considering another run for governor.
Crist and Rouson join a growing chorus calling for elections reform. Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said she will seek reforms, and groups like the League of Women Voters and the AFL-CIO say they will push for a major overhaul of the laws, including expanding the number of early voting days.
Many of the problems that surfaced during the election were predicted by Democratic lawmakers when the Legislature passed HB 1355, enacting a slew of voting changes, including new rules for voter registration drives and changes to early voting.
Scott's chief of elections, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, has said that the length of the ballot and the lack of sufficient early voting sites is what caused the chaos on Election Day. But both he and Scott, while only recently acknowledging that there were problems, have been reluctant to commit to any specific fixes.
Detzner met with the executive board of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections on Wednesday. They recommended limiting the length of the ballot and giving supervisors greater power in choosing early voting sites, but they did not recommend expanding the period for early voting.
Detzner said he won't recommend changes until he listens to more people and groups.
"It's a little premature for me to say what we're going to address," he said after the 90-minute meeting. "It's important to step back and go into a fact-finding mode and make the right kind of recommendations."
Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau staff writer Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report.