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Early voting fight escalates: Democrats demand more days

State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, led a six-person delegation of black leaders to the governor's office Monday. Unannounced, they asked to meet on the spot with Scott, who was in his office at the time. The group arrived at 11 a.m., in the midst of an hour described as "staff and call time" on Scott's schedule.

tallahassee_central-20120820-00032.jpgScott's legislative affairs director, Jon Costello, emerged to say Scott would be happy to meet with the group at a later date. "Unfortunately, his schedule is kind of packed," Costello told Joyner (at center in photo. Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, is at left, and Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor is at right). 

The group wants Scott to issue an executive order expanding the number of days of early voting in Florida from eight to 12 in November. Their demand for an audience with Scott comes three days after a panel of three federal judges in Washington refused to approve the eight-day schedule in five counties, saying it would discourage black turnout and was "analogous to closing polling places" in predomantly African-American communities in the five counties that are under U.S. jurisdiction for voting (Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry).

Joyner cited the "precedent" of 2008, when then-Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican at the time, issued an order extending early voting because of long lines at numerous early voting centers.

"The governor has to make a decision," Joyner said. "Is he going to stand up on the side of the people -- the people who want to exercise the right to vote? Because it's quite obvious that none of this occurred until Barack Obama was elected president. Then this great push across this country to impede the right to votes of black people in America and others who vote Democratic."  

Crist acted largely at the behest of Dan Gelber, a Democratic state senator, and the action was later viewed as benefiting Obama, who won Florida and the presidency in 2008. Scott is a Republican who supports Obama's opponent, Mitt Romney.

The Legislature, which is dominated by Republicans, changed the law last year to require 8 days of early voting for up to 12 hours a day, ending the Saturday before the election. The old law required 14 days of early voting. The political fight is largely about days, not hours. Black leaders claim eight days of early voting discriminate against blacks -- and they cite the judges' strongly-worded decision.

"Minority voters will be disproportionately affected by the change in the early voting process," the judges wrote. "They disproportionately use early, in-person voting."

Others in the Joyner delegation were Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho, the Rev. William Foust of the Southern Leadership Council, and Dale Landry of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP. 

-- Steve Bousquet