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UPDATED Monroe County elections supervisor asks Gov. Rick Scott to extend early-voting hours

UPDATE: See Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner's response to Sawyer after the jump.

Harry Sawyer Jr., the Monroe County supervisor of elections, sent Gov. Rick Scott a short letter Friday formally requesting an extension of early voting into Sunday.

Scott, a Republican, told the Associated Press on Thursday night that he does not plan to expand the early-voting period, which ends at 7 p.m. Saturday. Democrats and Democratic-leaning groups -- and former Gov. Charlie Crist -- had urged Scott to extend the hours, citing long lines in counties such as Miami-Dade.

But Sawyer, a Republican who is not seeking reelection, said he thought it important to make the request anyway because fewer voters in the Florida Keys have cast ballots early.

"We're seeing a reduction in the number of people voting," Sawyer said. "I've talked to several people [who have said], 'I saw the line, I just kept driving.'"

He characterized lines in the county's five early-voting sites as "sporadic." He blamed the lengthy ballot and a law Scott signed last year cutting the number of early-voting days to eight from 14. The number of maximum early-voting hours, 96, remains the same in statute, though voters had 120 hours to vote in 2008 after Crist extended early voting.

Sawyer had initially resisted complying with the state's request earlier this year to agree to fewer, 12-hour early-voting days. A federal court later ruled that new hours did not discriminate against African-American voters.

"The days should have never have been reduced," Sawyer lamented Friday. "The days are much more important to the process than the hours."

Scott's administration, through an elections division spokesman, has said reports from elections supervisors elsewhere in the state have been positive.

Read Detzner's response after the jump.

Dear Supervisor Sawyer: 

I share your interest in ensuring that Floridians make their voices heard at the polls in this and every election cycle—and Florida law provides abundant opportunities for doing so.  Under our laws, voters may vote by mail for weeks, at early voting sites for eight twelve-hour days, and at more than 6,000 locations on Election Day.  Any voter who is in line before the polls close  – during early voting days or on Election Day – will be able to vote.  Floridians can also still request absentee ballots at every supervisor’s office which will count as long as they are signed and returned by 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. 

Florida’s early voting dates and hours are set by statute—specifically  section 101.657, Florida Statutes (2012)—and have been carefully reviewed and approved by federal courts and the Department of Justice.  As state officials, we are bound to follow the law.  

Thus, early voting hours can only be legally altered during a state of emergency pursuant to section 101.731, Florida Statutes (2012).  That law specifically defines an election emergency as an “occurrence, or threat thereof, whether accidental, natural, or caused by human beings, in war or in peace, that results or may result in substantial injury or harm to the population or substantial damage to or loss of property to the extent it will prohibit an election officer’s ability to conduct a safe and orderly election.”  Fortunately, no such situation currently exists in the State of Florida.

We are very pleased with the enthusiasm of voters in this election cycle, and we continue to receive many positive reports regarding mail and early voting.  We encourage all voters to continue to head to the polls during the remaining hours of early voting and on Election Day.

Sincerely,

 

Ken Detzner, Secretary

Florida Department of State

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