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After Latest Florida Ballot Debacle, Democrats File Bills to Extend Early Voting

| November 29, 2012

The lines at the public library in Palm Coast the first of eight days of early voting this year. With just one other early voting location in the county, it didn’t get much better in subsequent days. (© FlaglerLive)

Democrats in the state Senate on Thursday filed the first legislation arising out of concerns over voting difficulties in Florida, seeking to expand early voting times and the places where early voting can occur.

The measures would also eliminate a requirement that people who have moved into a community from outside the county vote a provisional ballot on Election Day if they hadn’t earlier changed their legal address.

The bills (SB 80, SB 82) were filed by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa and Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami.

Democrats have complained that Republicans, who overwhelmingly control the Legislature, have tried to make it harder for people to vote, particularly those who are more transient, younger, and minorities, all of whom critics say are more likely to vote Democratic. Republicans have countered that measures aimed at making it more difficult to cast a ballot are intended to stop voter fraud.

Republicans in 2011 passed into law a bill that reduced the number of early voting hours, following anecdotal evidence that extended early voting in 2008 helped President Obama capture the White House.

Both bills filed this week would require early voting to begin 15 days before Election Day, up from 10 days before under current law. Early voting wouldn’t end until the Sunday night before the election under the new measures. Current law ended early voting on the Saturday before Election Day.

African-American voters in 2008 had a major vote drive organized by churches on the Sunday before Election Day, a “souls to the polls” effort that was precluded from occurring on that particular Sunday this year, although Sunday early voting was available a week earlier.

More voting hours also could be available under the bills. Current law requires at least six hours of voting per day, while the bills would require 12 hours per weekday and 12 hours total on the weekend.

In another change proposed by Joyner and Margolis, local supervisors of elections could expand the types of places where early voting is allowed. Currently, supervisors must offer early voting in the supervisor’s offices, and can allow voting in libraries and city halls. The bills would allow supervisors, if they want, to also offer early voting in other government facilities such as a courthouse, as well as colleges, churches, or community centers. The bills would also prevent counties from reducing the number of early voting sites from what they used in 2008.

Several voters in a few Florida locations, particularly in South Florida, complained this year of particularly long voting lines on Election Day – in some cases waiting several hours to vote – though it’s not clear what caused those lines in some places. The ballot, loaded down with local issues in some places and several complex statewide constitutional amendment proposals, was particularly long, likely increasingly the amount of time each voter spent in a voting booth.

But some have also said that additional early voting would have helped – if more people would have voted early there would have been fewer people to vote on Election Day. Slightly more than half of voters cast a ballot early, either in person or by mail, in Florida in both 2012 and 2008.

New Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and new House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, have both promised that lawmakers will try to figure out what went wrong on Election Day that led to the long lines, and do something about it. Both have also vowed to correct a problem in reporting vote counts that led Florida to be the last state to declare the winner of its electoral votes. Weatherford has said that if it is determined that the reduction in early voting hours was part of the problem, backers of the law that reduced the hours – which included him – should own up to it and fix it.

Both Gaetz and Weatherford have said, however, that it’s not clear yet, what the problems were. A local commission in Miami-Dade County is also looking into the issue there, and began its work this week. Gov. Rick Scott has ordered the state Division of Elections to also report on what may have caused the problem.

Gaetz created a free standing Ethics and Elections Committee that will be chaired by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, which will be tasked with getting to the bottom of the problem. The committee is likely to work on a committee bill on the issue, but also likely would have to hear the Margolis bill or the Joyner measure if either is to pass.

–David Royce, News Service of Florida

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10 Responses for “After Latest Florida Ballot Debacle, Democrats File Bills to Extend Early Voting”

  1. Maryellen McDonough Lent says:

    I am really having a hard time with all this hellabaloo about early voting. This State and others (with early voting) are spoiled rotten! Where I came from you had ONE DAY to cast your ballot, and the only absentee’s had to be you were actually going to be not home that day.

    Anyone can do an absentee here, and you have all these extra days to vote on top of it. It’s a dream!


    • Nancy N. says:

      The people waiting in line for SIX HOURS to vote in certain areas of the state on election day didn’t think it was such a dream. More like a nightmare.

    • Magnolia says:

      @ Maryellen McDonough, Welcome to Florida where we do everything just a little different and those who persist the loudest get their way.

      It’s only tax money. Who cares?

    • kmedley says:


      I am a Native Floridian and remember the single Election Day and that one had to present a legitimate request for an Absentee Ballot, not just one of convenience. Employer’s often made allowances, such as being a few minutes late for work, or letting folks leave a few minutes early in order to go vote. Yes, Early Voting days were reduced, not eliminated. People still have an allotted number of days BEFORE Election Day in order to vote. There is still a Sunday during Early Voting for getting “souls to the polls”. They can vote by absentee. Yes, a few more Early Voting sites would make it even easier; but, this notion of voter supression is one I simply do not understand.

  2. Tim Brown says:

    I hope they recycle the paper their writing on and donate the finished products back to them in the form of some cheap toilet paper!

  3. kmedley says:

    How do those, who are putting forth these changes, propose to pay for the extended hours and the additional locations? I agree there should have been more than 2 Early Voting locations in Flagler. According to our SOE, the numbers were not there to justify a third location in Flagler Beach. If I remember correctly, according to the SOE’s budget, each Early Voting Poll worker is paid $9.00 per hour, plus training. An average polling place has a Clerk, Assistant Clerk, 3 Book Inspectors, Ballot Box inspector and a Deputy. That’s 7 workers at a minimum of $9.00 per hour. If Early Voting is extended to the Sunday before the election, that narrows the time the office staff has to generate the register books for the Clerks to pick up on Monday before the election. Again, I don’t have a problem with giving more flexibility as to locations and days; but, there needs to be some consideration as to costs, and the ability of the office to meets in deadlines, too. Look for this to be an issue in the SOE’s next budget before the next county wide election. The BOCC would be wise to gather information before signing off on increases related to Early Voting with proper reconciliation.

  4. BW says:

    I don’t particularly think it has to be extended in terms of number of days/hours, but rather the idea of allowing more locations would allow for an easier process. This was presented by our Supervisor of Elections, Kimberle Weeks, during her campaign. Since she should be a voice for us to Tallahassee let’s see if she will hold to presenting that idea and I would expect some type of report back to our community as to the progress with that.

  5. Anon says:

    I sent an email to the Governor to tell him that he and his party’s efforts at voter suppression resulted in voter disruption, especially in South Florida. And I congratulated him on partially fulfilling his mission.

    I received an email reply from one of his subordinates who advised me of the Governor’s effort to find areas to improve the elections process.

    Here is the link.

    This is analogous to an arsonist who sets fire to a dwelling then wants to meet with fire officials to figure out how to better prevent house fires.

  6. confidential says:

    @Anon send another letter to the Governor asking not longer to hire banking crooks as we have enough with him as is:
    Someone in these blogs also committed unemployment fraud…looks like the new trend.

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