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GOP files its first elections reform bill for 2013

TALLAHASSEE -- The long-awaited Republican response to the long lines that plagued many Florida precincts was turned in today.

It's a bill sponsored by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, that adds a day of early voting -- the Sunday before the election. The Republican controlled Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott had been criticized nationally for reducing the number of early voting days from 14 in 2008 to eight days. Though Republicans had been resistant to add early voting days as a way to reduce long lines before November's election, they have since said they would consider expanding the number of days.

Diaz de la Portilla's bill adds one day of early voting and adds two hours of early voting per day at each site to 14 for a general election. The bill requires each of the 67 supervisors of elections to inform the state of their preparations three months before a general election. The report is required to include staffing levels for early voting, Election Day, and after Election Day, as well as a rundown of the equipment used to tabulate votes at each site.

Democrats, two from Tampa Bay and one from South Florida, have filed three other bills that seek to expand early voting by even more. All of them seek to allow for more early voting sites, which are currently limited to certain government buildings that often can't handle the crowds in big counties. The proposals have almost identical language. Consider Miami Sen. Gwen Margolis SB 82, which says early voting could take place in "any city hall, public library facility, courthouse, place of worship, civic center, convention center, community center, county government center, conference center, community college facility, university or college, or any other location designated by the supervisor as meeting the requirements of this section."

The legislation, similar to bills filed by Tampa Sen. Arthenia Joyner and St. Petersburg Rep. Darryl Rouson, would also expand the number of early voting days to 14, which was the number before Diaz de la Portilla carried the elections bill in 2011 that cut the days to 8. The Democrats would also expand the cumulative early voting hours, currently capped at 96, to 144 hours or as many 168 hours. The cumulative early voting hours in 2008 was 120 hours after then-Gov. Charlie Crist ordered polls to remain open to grapple with long lines. 

Scott refused to do so this year. Now Scott has said that the number of early voting days and sites needs to be re-examined.

"There's so much pressure to get this done," Margolis said. "I can't believe anyone would be against this."

Said Rouson: "The cutting of early voting wasn't just harmful to Democrats. It hurt Republicans. It hurt independents. The governor and leaders of the House and Senate said it's time to make a change. Surely, they can't be against giving people more opportunities to vote and more convenience for them to vote."


-- Marc Caputo and Michael Van Sickler