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Nelson joins call to Scott to extend early voting hours, amid four-hour wait

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has asked Florida Gov. Rick Scott to extend early voting hours as voters line up in four-hour waits in Miami Dade, Broward and Orange counties.

Nelson, a Democrat, said that Scott's refusal to extend the polling hours threatened to jeopardize "the credibility of Florida's election." 

He and others have asked Scott to use his exective powers to issue an emergency order extending early voting hours at least through Sunday. The governor has rejected earlier calls to extend early voting to help alleviate long lines at the polls. His predecessors, Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist used their executive authority to extend voting hours during their terms.

Meanwhile, voters are spending hours in line Saturday — the last day for early voting. Some sites are reporting a wait time of about four hours in Miami Dade and Broward counties, while locations in Hillsborough and Duval counties are reporting between 15 minutes to an hour.

On Thursday, Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith and former state Sen. Dan Gelber also asked the governor to extend early voting hours. Former Gov. Charlie Crist  and Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer have also asked for an extension of voting hours, which end tonight at 7 p.m.

Sawyer is the only Republican we know of to have asked for the extension. There have been no statewide Republican officials who have echoed this request.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner responded that there is plenty of opportunity for Floridians to vote and they will not be extending the hours.

"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,'' he wrote to Sawyer. "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." 

In Pasco County, supervisor Brian Corley said voters there had surpassed 2008 records with both early voting and absentee ballots.

At the busiest polling site in Leon County, the home of Florida's capital, Supervisor of Election Ion Sancho told voters waiting in the the 90-minute line that they would be breaking an early voting record today.

He also said that other polling sites, two libraries in the city, were "a mess" as traffic was snarled by voters unable to find parking. The county has had to recruit law enforcement to handle the traffic and "it's still impossible,'' he said.

"This is what happens when you make it not accessible by design,'' Sancho said. He said that the Republican-led legislature has intentionally limited early voting sites to libraries and supervisors of elections offices in an attempt to "suppress access."

"Supervisors of elections should have the same discretion to determine early voting polling places as they do for regular polling sites,'' he said. "There's no excuse not to."

If he had that option, he would put polling places in neighborhood recreation centers and even the downtown Civic Center, where there would be ample parking.

"According to some of the legislators, that would let 'the wrong kind of people vote,' '' he said.

Sancho also was handing out a copy of a opinion piece by Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano as voters waited in line that detailed how Republican Party officials worked together to draft the voter registration laws. "Here's some good reading,'' he told voters.

Here is the text of Nelson's letter:

Nov. 3, 2012

The Honorable Rick Scott
Office of the Governor
The Capitol
400 South Monroe St.
Tallahassee, Florida 32399

Dear Gov. Scott:

Reports are that early voting has reached record levels and that long lines have formed at many of the early voting sites. 

Combined with too few polling locations and a lack of adequate parking at many of them, an untold number of Floridians may be deprived of an opportunity to vote.

You should be doing everything in your power to make sure everybody has the chance to vote, and that their vote is counted.  Instead, Gov. Scott, you are allowing people to be turned away and jeopardizing the credibility of Florida’s election.

You should act in the interest of all Floridians to be able to cast their ballot and not for partisan reasons to suppress the vote.

To ensure the maximum participation in this election and to provide the means for every citizen to vote and have their vote counted, I request that you issue an executive order extending early voting hours at least through Sunday.



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