After Chaotic Election, Florida Governor Backs Voting Changes
By Jim Malewitz, Staff Writer
Florida Governor Rick Scott has endorsed several major changes to his state’s voting process, two months after a chaotic election plagued by hours-long waits at precincts and reduced turnout, which experts say disproportionately affected minority voters.
The Republican governor on Thursday (January 17) said he is backing three major changes: adding early voting days and extending hours, including the Sunday before Election Day; opening more early voting locations; and shortening a wordy ballot that last year ran six pages long, confusing voters and increasing wait times.
“Our ultimate goal must be to restore Floridians’ confidence in our election system,” Scott said in a statement.
The proposal would reverse part of a law he signed in 2011, which, among other controversial provisions, rolled back early voting days from 14 to eight, while eliminating voting on the Sunday for Election Day. The law, one several overhauls pushed by Republican-controlled legislatures ahead of the election, was widely criticized as a ploy to disadvantage minorities — and in turn Democrats — who are more likely to vote early, particularly on the Sunday when churches traditionally lead voter drives.
Scott’s proposal comes as new research shows the 2011 law likely reduced voter turnout and particularly impacted minorities.
Floridians cast fewer than 2.44 million early votes in 2012, down from more than 2.66 million in 2008, according to a study released Thursday by professors at the University of Florida and Dartmouth College. The proportion of early voters fell by 3 percent in that window.
Of the 1.17 million total votes African Americans cast during the 2012 election, more than half came during the shortened early voting period. The group made up just 14 percent of all voters, but 22 percent of early voters.
“It is fair to say that black voters disproportionately bore the brunt of the well‐documented long lines during early voting,” the researchers wrote.
Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford applauded the governor’s proposal, calling its measures “realistic solutions to fix a serious problem.”
“The House will take a close look at these recommendations as we determine the best steps to take to resolve the issue,” he said.
Meanwhile, The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which has wrangled with Scott on election policy, said the change would be “steps in the right direction but they are too narrow in scope and there are critical details missing.”
“The governor must clearly outline how he plans to address the shortage of election equipment as well as the need for uniform voting rules across the state to ensure that our elections are fair,” said Howard Simon, the group’s executive director.