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Miami-Dade mayor to ask Gov. Rick Scott, state lawmakers to extend early voting

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez intends to ask Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators to extend early voting allowed under Florida law for future elections, following lines up to seven hours long to vote in his county.

"We need to talk to the governor and legislature to extend early-voting hours," Gimenez told reporters Wednesday. "And also ask the state Legislature not to give us a 10-page ballot next time."

The mayor also plans to ask the state to allow counties to open early-voting sites in more locations. State law only allows polling places at libraries and municipal buildings such as city halls. Miami-Dade has made the request unsuccessfully in the past; Gimenez said he would like to double or triple the number of sites for the next presidential election.

Leading up to Tuesday's election, the mayor -- a Republican in a nonpartisan post -- took flak from voters and Democrats who urged Gimenez to ask the governor, who is also a Republican, to extend early voting by executive authority. Gimenez refused to do so, saying he did not want the rules changed once voting had begun.

Then came Election Day, with more long lines in a handful of precincts where voting stretched into the wee hours of Wednesday morning, after the presidential race had been called.

Gimenez blamed the long lines on several factors, including fewer early-voting hours than in 2008, when then-Gov. Charlie Crist extended the hours to 120 from 96. Gimenez also noted the reduction in early-voting days; Scott signed a law last year guaranteeing a Sunday of early voting but eliminating the Sunday before Election Day and reducing the number of days to eight from 14 while keeping the same 96 hours on the books.

And Gimenez mentioned the 11 proposed constitutional amendments -- as well as 10 Miami-Dade county questions -- that lengthened the ballot to 10 pages in the state's largest county.

Still, Gimenez took some responsibility for the long lines, saying there were issues with staffing, equipment and organization at some large polling sites.

"The long lines at Brickell, the long lines at other precincts -- that's inexcusable," he said. "Obviously we didn't do something right in those precincts. It's not the way we should treat our citizens."

But the mayor also played defense, saying there were lines in several Florida counties. Nine counties, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, were still counting ballots Wednesday morning -- in part because of a surge in late absentee ballots that the county elections department could not have foreseen, Gimenez said.

"This is not a third-world country," he said. "Your vote counts. We count it accurately, and there's no fraud in Miami-Dade County."

A majority of Miami-Dade voters had a wait of one or two hours, he said -- about what's to be expected in a presidential election, according to the mayor.

Ideally, Gimenez said he would propose opening all of the county's 829 precincts (at 541 locations) for three consecutive days -- Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, say -- instead of having early voting for the week before Election Day. But he won't ask the state for that because it won't go for it, Gimenez said.

"They're going to cry foul," Gimenez said. "They're going to say it's hyper-expensive."