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Florida election supervisors want up to 14 early voting days

TALLAHASSEE — Hoping to avert future voting meltdowns, Florida election supervisors will urge the Legislature to restore up to 14 days of early voting and expand voting locations.

They also want lawmakers to limit legislatively backed constitutional amendments to 75 words on the ballot, a requirement for citizen amendments.

Lawmakers' insistence on publishing the full text of several ballot questions, totaling more than 3,000 words, contributed to the longest ballot in Florida history and was a big factor in bottlenecks at the polls last fall.

The supervisors want the state to require eight days of early voting in primary and general elections and give them the option to stretch it "up to" 14 days.

Before 2011, 14 days of early voting was required. That year, the Legislature reduced early voting to eight days and ordered it to end on the Saturday before Election Day.

The elected county election chiefs will present their ideas to lawmakers in hearings at the Capitol next week.

"We needed to be pro-active and have a voice in this process and more so than we've done in the past," said Pasco County's Brian Corley, legislative chairman of the state association of election supervisors. "Who else has more of an appropriate say than those who are actually in the trenches?"

The election supervisors, from counties large and small, have long asked for greater leeway in the places where early voting can occur. But lawmakers have restricted it to election offices, city halls and public libraries.

Corley cited the case in his county of a branch library's meeting room that was about 20 feet long and 20 feet wide.

"It was a recipe for disaster," Corley said. "It just can't be one size fits all. We need more flexibility."

Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders, chastened by the long lines and chaos that gave Florida a bounty of harsh publicity, have all said they support a thorough review of voting procedures.

Scott recently told CNN he favored a "bipartisan" solution, with shorter ballots, greater flexibility and a review of the number of early voting days.

"We do need change," Scott told CNN.

Scott gets lots of constituent email on voting, much of it critical, and his office has been responding with a partial transcript of the Dec. 19 CNN interview.

"They all seem to be singing from the same hymnal," Corley said. "There's no reason to think we wouldn't be successful. I'm optimistic."

The election group's chairwoman, Vicki Davis of Martin County, said supervisors are deliberately not calling for a mandatory 14-day early voting timetable.

"The smaller counties don't need 14 days of early voting," Davis said. "This creates flexibility for supervisors to choose the number of days that meet the needs of their counties."

Davis and Corley are among 10 supervisors who will testify in Tallahassee along with Penelope Townsley of Miami-Dade, Susan Bucher of Palm Beach County and Jerry Holland of Duval.

The 60-day annual legislative session begins March 5.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Florida election supervisors want up to 14 early voting days 01/10/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 11, 2013 2:28pm]
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