FL: Early voting becomes political weapon in last hours of election fight

By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog

ST. PETERSBURG — Though in-person early voting has been only a novelty in Florida elections since 2004, organized groups statewide have taken up the issue as their last chance of winning the election in the final hours.

Reports of long lines and excessive wait times have flamed up concerns for party officials and frustrated voters. This situation was made worse by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s decision to close down a poll station Sunday in Doral, after hundreds of voters began showing up to vote once early voting had ended.

Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher said she will allow voters to turn in absentee votes in person until Monday evening, finding her way around election laws requiring voters to send in absentee ballots by mail.

“The voters deserve to vote, and since we have the ability to allow them to vote an absentee ballot at the counter, I think that’s the right thing to do,” Bucher told thePalm Beach Post on Monday.

bomb threat prompted the closing of a poll station Saturday in Winter Park, the last day of early voting, until Orange County Elections Supervisor Bill Cowles decided to extend voting hours at that location on Sunday.

Reacting to these reports, the Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott because of his “refusal to follow precedent and extend early voting hours in the face of unprecedented voter turnout in South Florida,” said party chairman Rod Smith.

“Any voter in line when the polls close — during early voting and on Election Day — will be allowed to cast a ballot,” Secretary of State spokesman Chris Cate said in a statement.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, running for re-election against GOP hopefulU.S. Rep.Connie Mack, parroted the Democratic Party’s line of blaming Scott in a fundraising letter.  But Nelson also outright accused Scott of “voter suppression” and claimed Scott was determined to “stop Floridians from exercising their constitutional right to vote.”

But is refusing to extend voting hours tantamount to voter suppression?

Early voting was first initiated in 2004, a reaction to the 2000 election fiasco in Florida, which kept the nation in waiting for its commander in chief.

In 2011, the Republican-led Legislature reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to eight, but also extended the maximum hours allowed per day to 12 hours, meaning that polls would be open a total of 96 hours before Election Day — the same amount of time as before.

This allows working individuals to access the polls from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., rather than from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Another option available to all voters is no-fault absentee voting, which allows any voter to request and fill out a ballot by mail.

Ballots were mailed out weeks before the election, and they are due back at elections supervisors’ offices by the day of the election, Nov. 6.

The latest figures show 4.5 million Floridians have handed in absentee ballots or visited early voting sites, representing nearly a third of all voters.

Of the 12 million registered voters throughout the state, 4.7 million are Democrats, 4.2 million are Republicans and 2.6 million are independents, the rest registering with minor parties, according to the Florida Department of State,

Scott’s office did not return calls for comments on this story.

The official results will be released once all ballots are counted on Tuesday night.

Read more: Florida Watchdog

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, writer, and consumer advocate. His writings and interviews have appeared in newspapers, magazines, and online outlets across the world in multiple languages. He is the founder and editor of Devolution Review and deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center. He was previously a national investigative reporter at Watchdog.org. He has a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) from the CEVRO Institute in Prague, and a Bachelor's in Political Science from Concordia University, Montreal. He currently splits his time between Vienna, Austria and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Website https://yael.ca
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