Gov. Rick Scott not likely to extend early voting hours

Citing long lines, a former Miami Beach state senator, the Florida Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters of Florida urged Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday to extend early voting.

But don’t expect the effort to go anywhere.

Top Republican officials in Tallahassee said Thursday an extension isn’t needed. And in Miami-Dade, the county with the longest lines, the office of Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Republican who appoints the elections supervisor, said he has no plans to ask the governor for more time.

The likely result: more long lines for early voters and long lines for Election Day voters on Tuesday.

Other early glitches have been reported, too. Some Broward voters have seen delays in receiving their absentee ballots; the county elections supervisor’s office says every voter who has reported a missing ballot has been mailed another one.

One Broward voter encountered an unexpected wrinkle: She was purged from the voting rolls because she hadn’t voted in so long and because she didn’t respond to certified mail that warned her she would be removed because she had been so inactive, according to the elections office.

But the focus remained on in-person early voting, where voters are still facing three-hour waits at some Miami-Dade polling sites.

More than 3 million Floridians had voted early or by mail through Wednesday evening. Democrats lead in early voting, while Republicans hold the edge in absentee voting.

Between the first day of early voting Saturday and Wednesday, Broward averaged more than 28,400 voters a day. Miami-Dade averaged more than 26,300.

Among the early voters Thursday was Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, who drew a crowd when he cast his ballot at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in downtown Miami.

But he didn’t have to wait in the hour-long line. He had a proxy stand in his stead, as allowed under election rules.

Former state Sen. Dan Gelber, a Democrat who lost a bid for attorney general two years ago, asked Scott on Thursday to expand the early-voting period, which ends at 7 p.m. Saturday, to include Sunday.

“In parts of Florida many citizens — including veterans and seniors — have had to wait for as many as 5 hours to simply express the most fundamental right guaranteed to them in a democracy,” Gelber wrote in the letter Thursday morning.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith echoed Gelber’s request in a statement soon after. And Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters, sent Scott a letter Thursday afternoon asking him to allow Sunday voting in counties with “high voter traffic.”

The delays, Macnab wrote, have resulted “from an increase in the number of registered voters since 2008, reductions in the number of days available to early vote and the unprecedented length of this year’s ballot...” The Miami-Dade ballot is 10 pages long.

Scott signed a state law last year reducing the number of early-voting days to eight from 14 and doing away with early voting on the Sunday before Election Day. The new law guarantees a Sunday of early voting and allows for up to 12 hours of early voting a day, for a total of 96 hours. Miami-Dade is already meeting that cap.

Before the League weighed in, Republicans pushed back against what they described as a partisan attack by Democrats, who tend to vote early in higher numbers than the GOP, which prefers voting by mail using absentee ballots.

“Florida has a law in regard to early voting — this law provides for 96 hours of operation for early voting locations, the exact same amount of hours as 2008,” Mike Grissom, executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, said in a statement. “That same law was approved by President Obama’s Department of Justice. The fact is simple as this: more Floridians have cast a ballot as of 5 days out than in 2008. For one side to demand that we break the law because they feel like they are losing is wrong.”

The actual number of early-voting hours in 2008 was not 96 hours but 120 hours. Former Gov. Charlie Crist, then a Republican, issued an executive order expanding the voting period after seeing long lines at the polls.

Crist, now an independent campaigning for Democratic President Barack Obama, made an appearance in Miami Gardens on Wednesday and said Scott, who supports Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, should extend voting hours. Bumping up early voting to the 120 hours offered in 2008 would require polls to open Sunday and Monday.

At least one elections supervisor would usually have to request to extend voting hours for the governor to act.

Scott did not weigh in Thursday. Last week, he told reporters at a news conference that he would wait to evaluate how voting goes before he decides to expand early voting. On Thursday, Scott’s office referred early-voting questions to his secretary of state, who oversees the division of elections.

“The State has early voting laws in place to increase opportunities for voter participation, and supervisors of elections report it is going well,” Chris Cate, an elections division spokesman, said in a statement. “Any voter in line when the polls close — during early voting and on Election Day — will be allowed to cast a ballot.”

But Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican who helped to kick off a two-day GOP bus tour promoting early voting, said he saw no reason to extend early voting times.

“There’s no unusual circumstances,” Putnam said. “There’s no weather-related events. There’s nothing out there in the state of Florida right now that would create the basis for an emergency order for the governor to produce.”

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who joined Putnam on the eight-city bus tour, also said she saw no reason to extend early voting, but she emphasized she could not speak for the governor.

“We still have days to vote. It’s not the end yet, and we certainly have election day as well, that people can turn out and vote,” she said.

And state Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, the incoming Senate president, scoffed at the notion that Democrats were complaining about how long the lines are at early voting sites.

“Aren’t these the same people who were running around the state saying the changes to early voting amounted to voter suppression?” Gaetz said. “So now we’re seeing a historically high level of turnout, and they’re complaining.”

Miami Herald political writer Marc Caputo and Tampa Bay Times reporter Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.

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