Miami-Dade officials suggest voting changes to Florida elections chief

Published Dec. 12, 2012

MIAMI — Miami-Dade's mayor and elections supervisor asked Florida's secretary of state Tuesday to relay three requests to Tallahassee to try to fix last month's elections woes:

Extend the number of early-voting days. Expand early voting to sites other than public libraries, city halls and elections offices. Cap the number of words in state constitutional ballot questions.

Those changes, Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley said, could help prevent a repeat of some of the embarrassing problems that plagued the Nov. 6 presidential election, in which some Miami-Dade voters waited for seven hours to wrangle with a 10- to 12-page ballot.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner said he would carry Miami-Dade's message to his boss, Gov. Rick Scott, after completing visits to five problem counties and drafting recommendations for improvement. Those suggestions require the approval of state legislators who wrote the elections laws in the first place.

Miami-Dade officials criticized a law the governor signed last year that reduced the number of early voting days to eight from 14 and ended early voting on the Sunday before Election Day.

Acknowledging that other, smaller counties may not require as many days, or that two weeks of early voting may be necessary only during presidential elections, Gimenez and Townsley asked Detzner to consider recommending a more flexible state law that would give counties the leeway to adapt based on the election.

Even one more day of early voting — the Sunday before Election Day, typically a high-turnout day for largely Democratic, African-American voters — could go a long way if state law also was amended to allow early-voting sites in locations other than just city halls and public libraries, the mayor said.

Gimenez, a Republican who holds a nonpartisan office, said the effect of election law changes pushed by the GOP-controlled Legislature was to suppress the vote.

"We had fewer people going to early vote than back in 2008, when we had 14 days and we had two Sundays," he said. "If they wanted to do it on purpose or not, I don't know."

Detzner would not commit to supporting the recommendations, with pending visits Wednesday to Broward and Palm Beach, and to St. Lucie on Thursday. He met with Lee County officials earlier Tuesday.