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Former Miami Beach state senator asks Gov. Rick Scott to extend early-voting hours

Former state Sen. Dan Gelber sent Florida Gov. Rick Scott a letter Thursday formally asking the state to extend early-voting hours in Miami-Dade County across the state**, where long lines have kept some voters waiting six hours to cast their ballots. Others have been turned away by police officers because there is not enough parking.

Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat who lost a bid for attorney general two years ago, is asking Scott to expand the early-voting period, which ends at 7 p.m. Saturday, to include Sunday -- a day when heavily Democratic African-American voters had in the past held "souls to the polls" rallies. Some churches held those rallies last Sunday instead.

"In parts of Florida many citizens – including veterans and seniors – have had to to wait for as many as 5 hours to simply express the most fundamental right guaranteed to them in a democracy," Gelber wrote in the letter. "In my own City of Miami Beach, an elderly African American women passed out in front of city hall over the weekend after waiting in excess of an hour in the hot sun. An ambulance took her away. 

"Is that what you envisioned when you and the Legislature lengthened the ballot and shortened early voting? Election supervisors across the state report long lines continuing – in my county of Miami-Dade each day of Early Voting has seen more voters and longer lines than the day before."

Gelber's request was later echoed by the Florida Democratic Party.

The governor signed a law last year cutting early voting days from 14 to eight and eliminated early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, though the law guaranteed a Sunday of early voting. The law caps access at 12 hours daily, and a cumulative total of 96 hours. In 2008, voters had a cumulative 120 hours thanks to Crist’s executive order.

Democrats tend to favor early voting, and Republicans tend to favor voting absentee.

"We've been getting very positive reports from supervisors of elections around the state" about early voting, Chris Cate, a spokesman for Florida's elections division, said Wednesday.

Gelber noted that Scott's predecessors, Govs. Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush, extended voting hours (Bush extended voting hours in a 2002 primary election several counties, including Miami-Dade and Broward, after widespread problems). Crist appeared at least one Miami-Dade early voting site Wednesday and urged Scott to extend the hours or expand early voting to include Sunday and/or Monday. Election Day is Tuesday.

"This year the absurd length of the ballot coupled with the substantial decrease in early voting hours and days, has caused even greater dislocation at Florida's polls than confronted Governor Crist," Gelber wrote. "While another full day of early voting won't solve this problem, it will certainly improve the situation."

After Gelber sent his letter, Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith issued a statement also asking for an extension of early-voting hours.

"This is not a Democratic or Republican issue: protecting the right of every eligible Floridian to make their voice heard by participating in our democracy is an American responsibility which every elected leader has sworn to uphold and defend," Smith said in a statement.

**An earlier headline indicated Gelber had asked to extend the hours only in Miami-Dade. He asked for an extension statewide.