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Groups In Florida Urge To Expand Early Voting Days

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Early voters wait in line to vote in the presidential election on the first day of early voting at a polling station setup in the Miami-Dade County elections departmnet building on Oct. 27, 2012 in Miami, Fla. (credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Early voters wait in line to vote in the presidential election on the first day of early voting at a polling station setup in the Miami-Dade County elections departmnet building on Oct. 27, 2012 in Miami, Fla. (credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP)— Labor unions, Democratic lawmakers and other groups on Monday urged Florida officials to expand early-voting days and sites, among several recommendations offered in response to long lines at the polls and delays in ballot counting during last week’s election.

The obstacles once again made Florida the butt of jokes on late-night talk shows, evoking memories of the state’s problematic 2000 presidential election recount.

“This election cycle now marks 12 years of Florida being a voting disaster area,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a liberal civil rights group based in Washington, D.C.

The groups also proposed giving local election officials more discretion to select early-voting sites and more resources and voter assistance, including translators, for early voting.

Maria Saunders, a Miami charter school principal, was among voters who had long waits before they could cast their ballots. Saunders said she waited about four hours in the hot sun to vote early at a library that had only 28 voting booths.

“It went through my mind many times: ‘Do I stay, do I go?'” she said. “I said, ‘No, it’s important. The race appears to be close; we’ve got to ensure that President (Barack) Obama gets re-elected.'”

Sen. Oscar Brayon, D-Miami Gardens, said he would sponsor legislation based on the recommendations, but he wasn’t optimistic about getting it through the Republican-controlled Legislature or signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott. The governor rejected calls to extend early voting to help reduce long waits predicted for Election Day.

Those forecasts proved accurate. Voters in some cases waited up to seven hours to cast their ballots. Some in Miami-Dade County didn’t get a chance to vote until 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

“I don’t believe that the Legislature or the Republican governor would do what’s needed to be done to help this democratic — and I say democratic with a small ‘d’ — process,” Braynon said.

Chris Cate, a spokesman for Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner, Florida’s top election official, said in a statement that an evaluation will be conducted, as done after every election, to determine what areas need improvement.

“The first group we will be seeking input from will be the (county) supervisors of elections to get their feedback on what they did successfully and how they can improve,” Cate wrote.

In an interview with CNN last week, however, Detzner remarked, “We could have done better.”

Scott said in a weekend statement that he’s asked Detzner to review the election and suggest improvements at both the state and county levels.

State officials also will be getting advice. Several groups including The League of Women Voters of Florida, AARP, National Congress of Black Women, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and Florida Coalition on Black Civic Participation, plan to weigh in on Tuesday.

Braynon joined Rep. Darren Soto, a Democratic senator-elect from Orlando, in endorsing the proposals offered Monday by the unions, the Advancement Project, Florida New Majority, Florida Immigrant Coalition and St. John Progressive Missionary Baptist Church of Tampa.

Those groups want to return to 14 days of early voting, which the Legislature reduced to eight days as part of a 2011 law. Critics say that law was aimed at suppressing voting by minorities and others who tend to favor Democrats.

“Certainly, we will be doing everything possible to set a conciliatory tone to try to make these changes,” Soto said. “In the alternative, we’ll end up back in court.”

Other options would be to seek congressional or Justice Department investigations to determine if there’s been a systematic effort to suppress voters, said Florida New Majority executive director Gihan Perera.

A federal judge invalidated several provisions of the 2011 law that restricted voter-registration drives, including a requirement for third-party groups to turn in applications within 48 hours after they were signed. The ruling reinstated the previous 10-day deadline.

Efforts to get courts to expand the eight-day early-voting limit, though, failed prior to the election.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.) 

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