Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning made a promise in Washington last week that Floridians will hold him to: He pledged to push state lawmakers to expand the possible locations for early voting. That is a good first step toward reform that also should include an increase in the minimum number of sites in urban counties.
Nearly one in three of the 8.4-million Florida voters who cast ballots in the Nov. 4 election went to an early voting site. A month after the election, it's easy to forget how burdensome the option was for some, particularly in South Florida where waits were routinely three hours. In Pinellas County, where Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark offered early voting only at three of her offices, a line in downtown St. Petersburg stretched three blocks the weekend before the election.
Browning, consumed with the state's conversion to optical scan ballots, wasn't terribly sympathetic at the time. The former Pasco County elections supervisor resisted calls to enhance early voting once it started, noting hours and locations were limited by law. His boss, Gov. Charlie Crist, eventually extended hours during the last week of the two-week early voting window.
But Tuesday, while speaking to election officials at a national conference, Browning said he will ask the Florida Legislature to expand the possible locations for early voting. A 2006 state law restricts sites to elections supervisors' offices and branches, city halls and public libraries — locations that may not always be the most convenient when it comes to parking, as voters in downtown St. Petersburg found. Browning suggested such places as convention centers also would be logical choices, and there should be plenty of others.
Browning should go a step further and push the Legislature to require each county supervisor to offer a minimum number of early voting sites per capita, particularly in major urban counties like Pinellas. Clark has said she limited the number of sites due to budget constraints. She successfully pushed the use of absentee ballots. But mail-in ballots are more prone to errors, increasing voters' risk of their ballot being thrown out. Pasco and Hillsborough counties provided more early voting sites than Pinellas, and there should not be such imbalances across the state.
Early voting has proven popular with Florida voters. Browning has promised to try to make it easier, and so should the Florida Legislature.