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Lawmakers file bills to reinstate early voting Sunday before Election Day

In response to the long lines that plagued South Florida polls, two Miami lawmakers have filed legislation to reinstate early voting the Sunday before Election Day.

The proposals by Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis follow a recommendation from a Miami-Dade advisory group examining what went wrong in the November presidential election.

The advisory panel made additional suggestions Monday, including allowing voters to return absentee ballots in person at their polling places on Election Day, and setting a goal for how long the average voter should wait in line at the polls.

Advisory group members were pleased to learn about Diaz de la Portilla's legislation, filed Monday, which would increase the number of early voting hours per day to 14 from 12.

Margolis' legislation, which the group also touched on, is far more expansive: It calls for 14 days of early voting — instead of the current eight — and it would allow for more early-voting sites. It's similar proposals offered by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.

"There's so much pressure to get this done," Margolis said. "I can't believe anyone would be against this."

In 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a law sponsored by Diaz de la Portilla's committee and approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature that reduced the number of early voting days to eight from 14, and eliminated early voting the Sunday before Election Day — a day that predominantly Democratic African-American churches had used to drive "souls to the polls."

The law guaranteed one Sunday of early voting and kept the maximum number of early-voting hours on the books — 96 — the same. In practice, that represented a drop from 2008, when then-Gov. Charlie Crist extended the number of hours to 120. Diaz de la Portilla's bill would offer a maximum of 126 hours.

His bill also would require all of Florida's 67 elections supervisors to inform the state of their preparations three months before a general election.

The Florida Democratic Party, calling the November election "disastrous" and "a national humiliation for our state," bashed Diaz de la Portilla's bill Monday for not bringing back the 14 early-voting days available in 2008.

"This Republican proposal is a Band-Aid over a gaping wound, and fails to restore the electoral voting rights which were stripped from Florida's citizens by Rick Scott," party chairman Rod Smith said in a statement.

Times/Herald staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.

Lawmakers file bills to reinstate early voting Sunday before Election Day 01/07/13 [Last modified: Monday, January 7, 2013 11:36pm]
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