The bills, filed by Margolis, Sen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, would expand the maximum number of early-voting hours to anywhere from 144 to 168 hours.
“The cutting of early voting wasn’t just harmful to Democrats,” Rouson said. “It hurt Republicans. It hurt independents. The governor and leaders of the House and Senate said it’s time to make a change. Surely, they can’t be against giving people more opportunities to vote and more convenience for them to vote.”
The three Democratic bills would also allow counties to open early-voting sites in more locations — a change Miami-Dade has been requesting since 2006. Early voting sites are currently limited to elections offices, city halls and public libraries.
Diaz de la Portilla’s bill does not address early-voting sites.
“Why not?” a miffed Mayor Carlos Gimenez asked at advisory group meeting Monday.
For state and federal elections, the county has usually offered early voting at 20 locations, out of a potential 85, though 11 of those are storefront libraries without room for a polling place.
Some of the other sites, administrators say, are too small or do not offer adequate parking; Gimenez, a Republican in a nonpartisan post, has committed to opening more sites in the future for major elections, even if the Legislature doesn’t allow for more types of locations. This year, the sites cost $20,000 a day to operate.
Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican in charge of crafting an elections bill in his chamber, said he favors having more early-voting sites and hours, though he called proposals for 140 hours or more “ambitious.”
His ethics and elections committee will hold a hearing Monday in Tallahassee to take testimony from elections supervisors, including those from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
“I agree with the governor — that we need to have additional hours and/or places for early voting,” Latvala said. “But I also believe that this is not totally the Legislature’s fault.”
Neither do county leaders. Last month, Miami-Dade Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley issued a report outlining shortcomings at the local level and proposing a slew of fixes. They ranged from moving more full-time county employees out of their regular jobs during elections to have them work the polls, to purchasing new absentee ballot-sorting machines and electronic voter registries to check in voters.
Reviewing the “after-action” report Monday, the advisory group agreed with all the departmental recommendations, and requested that the county ask state elections officials for an advisory opinion on whether Florida law allows voters to turn in absentee ballots at their precincts on Election Day.
Gimenez also urged the group to come up with new performance criteria for the county, setting an informal goal for how long the average voter should wait in line to cast a ballot. Five minutes would be reasonable but unrealistic, for example, whereas lines longer than one hour could trigger reshuffling of resources to alleviate the waits, he said.
The mayor leaned toward a goal of an hour wait for major elections.
“Standing in line for an hour is not the greatest thing in the world,” Gimenez conceded. “Although I did stand in line for two hours in Disney World.”
Tampa Bay Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report from Tallahassee.