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Florida Democratic Party sues in Miami federal court to 'extend voting opportunities'

The Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit in the wee hours of Sunday morning seeking to somehow extend voting before Election Day.

The lawsuit, filed in Miami federal court, argues that an emergency judge's order is necessary to "extend voting opportunities" before Tuesday, including allowing voters to cast absentee ballots in person at supervisor of elections' offices -- something already allowed under state law. Voters can turn in their ballots through 7 p.m. Tuesday. 

In Miami-Dade, voters can request an absentee ballot in person, and turn it in, between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday, and between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday at the elections headquarters at 2700 NW 87th Ave., Doral.

It's unclear exactly what more a court could do at this point. The lawsuit does not ask the court to order all early-voting sites to re-open.

An attorney for the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections' office, one of the parties sued in the case, filed a motion responding to the lawsuit saying the case is moot to the county because it already allows for in-person absentee voting.

According to the lawsuit, "inadequate polling facilities" in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties led to lines in some cases between six and seven hours long -- longer than elsewhere in the state, the lawsuit says.

"The extraordinarily long lines deterred or prevented voters from waiting to vote. Some voters left the polling sites upon learning of the expected wait, and others refused to line up altogether," the lawsuit says. "These long lines and extreme delays unduly and unjustifiably burdened the right to vote."

The lawsuit cites requests made to Gov. Rick Scott to extend voting hours by executive authority. Scott said Thursday night he would not extend the hours, following requests from Democrats and Democratic-leaning groups.

On Friday, Monroe County Elections Supervisor Harry Sawyer Jr., a Republican, sent the governor a letter asking for more hours. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner responded that the reports he was receiving from elections supervisors across the state were positive about early voting.

Scott, a Republican, signed a law last year reducing the number of early-voting days to eight from 14 and eliminating voting on the Sunday before Election Day, which Democrats used to turn out supporters in 2008. The new law guarantees one Sunday of early voting.

The number of maximum hours offered stayed the same on the books, but four years ago, then-Gov. Charlie Crist effectively extended early voting by another 24 hours.

The lawsuit sues Detzner, along with three elections supervisors: Penelope Townsley of Miami-Dade, Brenda Snipes of Broward and Susan Bucher of Palm Beach. The Florida Democratic Party has hired some big-name attorneys: Kendall Coffey, Michael Olin, Bruce Rogow and Seth Miles.

In a statement, party chairman Rod Smith issued a statement blaming the GOP-controlled Legislature for passing the law reducing the number of early-voting days.

"Because of Gov. Scott's refusal to follow precedent and extend early voting hours in the face of unprecedented voter turnout in South Florida, we are requesting in federal court that more Floridians have a meaningful chance to early vote," Smith said.

**The headline on this post has been changed to better reflect what the Florida Democratic Party is asking for in its lawsuit. The lawsuit does not specifically ask for more early-voting hours.