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Gov. Rick Scott, fix this voting problem now, not later

Four days before the start of early voting and the six-hour lines that made Florida a target of national outrage, Gov. Rick Scott got a heads-up.

At a news conference in the governor's Capitol office, Tampa Bay Times reporter Michael Van Sickler posed a prescient question: "If there are complications with the long ballot and long lines, is there any possibility that you would extend the early voting period so more people could vote?"

Replied Scott: "No one has come to me and told me that's an issue yet. I think everything you do in this job, you look and if there's a problem, you try to solve it."

Governor, you have a problem. Let's see you solve it.

This is Scott's biggest controversy since he was elected two years ago.

His slogan, "Let's Get to Work," suddenly takes on a whole new meaning.

Scott could have extended early voting. He didn't. Now he must suffer the consequences as he ramps up his own bid for re-election in 2014 and asks the people of Florida for four more years.

Before the presidential election, Democrats were smelling blood over Scott's low job approval ratings. Now that President Barack Obama has won Florida for a second time and Republicans are demoralized, Democrats are casting Scott as the King of Voter Suppression.

A coalition of labor unions, liberal advocacy groups and Democratic legislators on Monday decried the Florida situation as a "disgrace to democracy," and called for a return to 14 days of early voting and repealing the expansion of the use of provisional ballots.

The speakers included the Rev. Bartholomew Banks of St. John's Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa.

"It's a travesty," he said. "The fact that people have to stand in line for hours to vote is unacceptable in this country."

The level of public outrage and intensity of national news coverage is such that Scott needs to act fast.

The governor who insists that voters hold him accountable for his actions could act swiftly and decisively by acknowledging his own role in the electoral chaos in signing a 2011 elections bill; apologize to people who stood in line for six hours; form a bipartisan task force to suggest reforms; insist that the state go back to the 14-day early voting period; and give counties flexibility to choose early voting sites and not be hamstrung by the few dictated by the Legislature.

County supervisors of election for years have asked for more flexibility in early voting sites, limited by law to their offices, city halls and libraries. They will renew the request when they meet with Scott's top elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, on Wednesday afternoon.

"We want to look at the effects of House Bill 1355 on this election," says Vicki Davis, supervisor of elections in Martin County and leader of the supervisors' group. After reviewing the drop in early voting in her own county, she said of the eight-day, 96-hour early voting schedule: "It's not enough."

Not enough, Governor.

Florida is a better place than the one portrayed on TV the past week. As the state's elected leader, Scott should lead the charge for change.

What happened was so unnecessary.

Take an election supervisor at her word.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Gov. Rick Scott, fix this voting problem now, not later 11/12/12 [Last modified: Monday, November 12, 2012 9:24pm]
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