TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott — who slashed early voting from 14 to 8 days, then defended the decision in court — said Thursday he thinks returning to 14 early-voting days will help ease long lines and delays in counting ballots that once again made the rest of the country question whether Florida knows how to run
The Republican governor also wants more early-voting sites and thinks ballots should be shorter. The 2012 ballot was unusually long after the Republican-dominated Legislature crammed 11 proposed constitutional amendments onto it and didn’t stick to the 75-word ballot summary that citizens groups must adhere to when placing a question on the ballot by petition.
“We need shorter ballots. We need more early voting days, which should include an option of the Sunday before Election Day. And, we need more early voting locations,” Scott said in his statement.
Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections chief of staff Ron Turner said Supervisor Kathy Dent, who was out of the office Thursday, supports the flexibility of early voting, dates and locations that Scott has proposed.
“She definitely supports the shorter ballot,” Turner said. “That ballot length that we had for the general election in 2012 certainly contributed to a longer time for voters to cast their ballots.”
Dent encouraged early and absentee voting last November because the ballot — the longest in the county’s history — was two pages, front and back. She estimated at the time it would take voters 20-30 minutes just to read 11 U.S. Constitutional amendments, a county charter amendment and five city of North Port charter amendments, along with all the races on the ballot.
A total of 55,480 people took advantage of the eight-day early voting period for the general election last year, according to Turner. The final day of early voting brought in 8,315 people, or about 15 percent of the total early voters. Turner said in addition, the county recieved nearly 80,000 absentee ballots, easily a record for the county.
Turner said the county has held 14-day early voting periods in the past, most recently for the 2008 general election. Turner said 70,797 voters took advantage of early voting that year.
“Officially, Kathy supports what the governor has proposed, so we’ll wait and see what gets passed through the Legislature and what becomes law in Florida if there are changes in election laws,” Turner said.
Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections Paul Stamoulis could not be reached for comment.
In 2011, Scott signed an elections bill that cut early voting from 14 to 8 days and eliminated the Sunday before Election Day as an early voting day — one that was used by many black churches for “souls to the polls” voting drives.
When voter rights groups sued to stop implementation of the law, Scott not only defended in court, but repeatedly backed it in interviews. When many called for him to issue an executive order extending early voting to alleviate long lines, as his predecessor Gov. Charlie Crist did in 2008, Scott continued to stand by the law.
Republican lawmakers had passed the law, which also included tighter restrictions on voter registration drives, after President Barack Obama carried Florida in 2008 in large part due to strong advantages in voter registration and in ballots cast during in-person early voting.
The state, however, was widely criticized last fall for six-hour-long voting lines and for not being able to confirm for days that Obama narrowly carried the state over Republican Mitt Romney.
The changes Scott is calling for are supported by county elections supervisors, who have already made the same recommendations.
The League of Women Voters of Florida and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida praised Scott’s announcement, even though they said he had caused the problems to begin with.
“Politicians don’t generally take responsibility for their screw-ups,” said ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon. “These problems occurred because he signed that bill into law. I know he’s been trying to evade responsibility saying, ‘It wasn’t my idea, it was the Legislature’s bill,’ but the fact of the matter is he signed it into law. And more than that he spent a good deal of the state’s money defending in federal court precisely what he announced today that he’s prepared to scrap.”
Staff writer Scott Lockwood contributed to this report.