Broward County asked the state of Florida on Friday about extending early voting hours this weekend at the request of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman.
Wasserman Schultz told the Miami Herald in an interview Sunday that she asked Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes for the extension for Sunday, when Democrats hold "Souls to the Polls" events targeting African-American voters.
The congresswoman said she asked for the extra hours on behalf of Charlie Crist's gubernatorial campaign and local religious leaders. The Obama administration did not ask her to seek the extension, Wasserman Schultz said.
According to Wasserman Schultz, she spoke to Snipes -- a fellow elected Democrat -- about at about 3:30 p.m. Friday and made the request. She also said that state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, also reached out to Snipes.
Snipes then emailed the Florida division of elections inquiring about the possibility to extend weekend early-voting hours. The state responded with a telephone call saying advanced notice would have been required.
Wasserman Schultz disagreed, saying she does not believe Snipes needs the state's permission to instate extra hours.
"She can extend early voting hours on her own," Wasserman Schultz said. She said it was not surprising that the secretary of state, an appointee of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, would tell Broward it could not do so.
Brittany Lesser, a spokeswoman for the division of elections, pointed to a state law that requires that early-voting hours be noticed 30 days in advance.
"Supervisor Snipes asked the Division of Elections for advice on changing early voting hours, and the division advised that the law does not allow for a change after the deadline," Lesser said.
But that didn't stop then-Gov. Crist, a Republican at the time, to extend the hours by executive authority in the 2008 presidential election, citing long lines. The move drew GOP ire and was credited in part with Florida swinging Democratic President Barack Obama's way.
Faced with similar lines four years later, Scott refused to extend hours, even though there had been fewer hours than four years earlier due to a revised state law.
Before the division of elections released its statement, former state Sen. Steve Geller, an adviser to Crist's campaign, told the Herald that Snipes asked to extend hours based on the belief that "Soul to the Polls" could result in long lines. Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews told Snipes on the phone that state regulations require 30-day advanced notice of hours and could not be changed now, Geller said.
State Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-Hollywood, said in an email that the state said told Snipes it would invalidate any votes cast the hours were to be extended. Like Wasserman Schultz, Jones said he thinks the responsibility lies with the elected county supervisor, as long as the total number of hours remains within the allowed 8-12 hours.
"But it does put Dr. Snipes in a difficult position when the state threatens to invalidate votes, even if they have no legal basis to do so," Jones said.
State Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said that he asked Snipes to extend early voting hours for Souls to the Polls "earlier" -- meaning at some point before Friday. He would not elaborate as to when he asked Snipes to extend hours and whether that was weeks ago, saying only that he had been "negotiating."
Late Sunday, Snipes told the Herald in an interview at the African-American Research Library voting site that Smith asked her weeks ago to extend early voting, so she amended her initial plan with the state to end weekend hours at 4 p.m. instead of 3 p.m.
As for Wasserman Schultz's assertion that Snipes could add extra hours on her own, Snipes said the reason Broward has had successful elections is that "we try to follow the election code."
"I looked into it, and we had not had any lines, no complaints," Snipes said. Some voters had to wawit 10 to 20 minutes, she added -- not like in the 2012 presidential election.
According to Snipes, about 18,000 people had voted by 4 p.m. Sunday. That number would be higher than any other early-voting day, and could grow after those still in line by closing cast their ballots.
Snipes' email to Tallahassee was revealed Sunday morning by Crist's campaign. It was sent at 4:41 p.m. Friday.
"What is required to increase Broward's early voting week-end hours?" the email says. "Hours are 7 am to 4 and I want to increase to 6:00."
Her office sent out an email to reporters Sunday afternoon noting that the county's 22 early-voting locations would close at the scheduled time: 4 p.m.
Crist's campaign used Snipes' request as a chance to bash Scott.
Broward is a Democrat-rich county, and it would benefit Crist to have as many voters there cast ballots as possible. But no lines of any significance have been reported, even during the busiest voting say so far, Friday. And making any request that late on a Friday afternoon via email hardly seems intended to elicit a prompt response.
"There have been lines, especially in recent days, but not lines of a presidential type," said Broward Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar, who was unfamiliar with Snipes' apparent request. "The lines have had 10, 15, 20 people -- not 100."
As of Saturday, Broward had 109,271 people vote at early voting sites, plus 111,406 by mail. In 2010, about 85,000 Broward residents voted at early voting sites and about 75,000 by mail.
This post has been extensively updated.