When the GOP Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott cut the number of early voting days in Florida, it clearly targeted one of the Democrats' favorite methods of voting (background here).
Now, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is joining other Democrats and liberal groups in calling on Scott to extend early voting into Sunday -- a day specifically eliminated by Scott when he signed HB 1355 in 2011.
"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," Nelson wrote in a letter he just sent to Scott, mainly referencing reports in The Miami Herald.
It seems President Obama's campaign, however, disagrees.
Here's what Florida manager Ashley Walker told The Tampa Bay Times when asked if "the rules of the game (shortened early voting hours) are working against you?"
Walker: "They're not. They tried to stack up the rules of the game against voter registration. We ran the largest voter registration effort this state has ever seen. They decided to decrease early vote so that they have more of an emphasis on vote-by-mail,and we played on their playing field and cut into their margin. And now each day we're stacking up votes on early voting, and we're turning out more of their sporadic voters than they are."
**Update: The Obama campaign says Walker's comments are being taken out of context when juxtaposed with Nelson's in this case.
Said spokesman Eric Jotkoff: "“There is no disagreement here. Our campaign and Senator Nelson are on the same page. As we have made very clear, we support any efforts to make it easier for eligible Floridians to vote. There has been record turnout at Early Voting sites across the state showing the huge enthusiasm. Yesterday alone, 343,000 Floridians made their voices heard in this election by going to Early Vote and today all signs point to another day of record turnout.”
Another aspect worthy of discussion: the press release from Nelson's office saying that he's "seeking to avoid a chaotic Election Day Tuesday."
The heavy early turnout means polls could, on average, be almost 50 percent less busy or "chaotic." The lines will therefore be shorter because people have already voted and because the precincts opened on Election Day will serve only those voters for that precinct and the ballots will already be printed.
A reason lines are so long in early voting is that multiple voters from multiple precincts are crammed into super-precincts. One voter's ballot from one neighborhood is often different from all others (because of legislative or city races). The ballot for each individual voter has to be printed on demand during early voting. And, since the ballot is so long (another story), it takes about 70 seconds to print each one for each person. That adds a 35 minute wait to every 30th person in line
So there's a good chance Election Day voting will actually be relatively pain free as far as wait times are concerned.
But there's another reason why some Election Day polling stations might be relatively empty: Politicians spooking voters with predictions of chaos. This is the fine line of talking about "voter suppression." Some people might actually believe they'll be "suppressed" and they won't show. It probably won't be a lot of people. But it's a risk nonetheless.
Here's Nelson's letter:
Nov. 3, 2012
The Honorable Rick Scott
Office of the Governor
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.