Gov. Charlie Crist has a knack for cutting through the bureaucracy and providing a simple solution to problems that seem needlessly complicated. His executive order to extend the hours of early voting sites is pragmatic and a victory for democracy.
The easy choice for the Republican governor would have been to sit quietly while the lines at early voting sites grew even longer and discouraged others from taking the time to vote before Tuesday. After all, Crist supports John McCain for president, and there were no calls from McCain's campaign or the Republican Party to expand opportunities for early voting.
There is an obvious political reason for that: Democrats have the advantage in early voting while Republicans have an advantage with absentee ballots. Through Tuesday, Democrats cast nearly 54 percent of the early votes compared to 30 percent by Republicans and 16 percent by others. But Republicans cast nearly 50 percent of the absentee ballots compared to 35 percent by Democrats and 15 percent by others. No wonder Crist's announcement about expanded early voting hours (from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and Friday; weekend hours vary by county) was immediately praised by Barack Obama, elected Florida Democrats and the Florida Democratic Party.
But Crist has demonstrated more than once that he can set aside the politics of the moment for the greater good. He did the same thing when he pushed through changes to make it easier for felons to restore their civil rights - including their right to vote - in a timely fashion. One of the keys to Crist's popularity even amid considerable angst over property insurance, property taxes and other issues is his ability to look beyond partisanship in office one day and still hit the campaign trail the next, as he did for McCain on Wednesday.
In the long term, Crist needs to convince the Republican-controlled Legislature that early voting is not a partisan issue. Lawmakers have cut back on the hours and locations for early voting, and the governor should recommend during the next legislative session that they expand early voting to meet demand.
As long as the governor is issuing executive orders, here are two others he should sign to smooth the election process:
-Order elections officials to resolve discrepancies between voter registration rolls and identification produced by voters on Election Day. The state's unreasonable "no match-no vote" law has been interpreted to mean that voters cannot clear up at the polling place such problems as the misspelling of their name, transposed Social Security numbers or inaccurate drivers' license numbers. In those situations, voters will have to cast provisional ballots and get a copy of their Social Security card or driver's license to the election supervisor's office within two days of the election. Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark is right to push for resolving those issues at the voting precinct so voters can cast a regular ballot, but there should be a common practice throughout the state.
-Direct Clark to open more early voting sites than the state-required minimum of three that are open now. There is a reason Pinellas trails other large counties in early voting numbers, and it's not because voters don't care as much about the election. It's because the early vote is being suppressed by Clark's attempt to force more voters to cast absentee ballots. Her intent may not be partisan, but that certainly is the result. If an executive order is out of line, then maybe a simple phone call from a constituent who happens to be the governor would help.