Gov. Rick Scott wants Florida lawmakers to revisit the 2011 elections overhaul, which was widely blamed for problems with early voting during last year’s presidential election.
In an interview on Miami-based WPLG Channel 10, Scott stressed he wants local supervisors to have the option to implement the most early voting hours in Florida history.
"What I think we ought to be doing is give the flexibility to our supervisors of elections, most of them, as you know, are elected county by county, but say you can do anywhere from eight to 14 days, six to 12 hours a day," Scott said in the Jan. 18, 2013, interview, "so a potential of 168 hours, which I think is the most we’ve ever had."
Scott, who refused to extend early voting in 2012 despite long lines at some polls, is also calling on the Legislature to restore early voting on the Sunday before Election Day -- the day when African-American groups hosted popular "Souls to the Polls" events.
Here we’ll examine whether Scott is right to say his proposal would be the most hours for early voting.
Florida’s history with early voting is short.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush signed early voting into law in 2004. That law required early voting to start 15 days before an election, with at least eight hours per weekday and eight hours total for each weekend. Voters had 104 early voting hours.
Even though election supervisors asked for more hours and more locations, Bush and the GOP-led Legislature passed a new law in 2005 that reduced hours and confined voting to election offices, city halls and libraries. Under the new law, early voting lasted 14 days, for eight hours on weekdays and a total of eight hours on the weekend. That’s 96 hours.
In the 2008 presidential election, voters had more time to vote early thanks to an emergency extension ordered by Gov. Charlie Crist (read that executive order.) Many news accounts put the total number of early voting hours in 2008 at 120, but the Department of State calculates it at 116.
In 2011, the Legislature passed a sweeping elections law that reduced the amount of days for early voting from 14 to eight. The new law gave supervisors a choice of offering between between six and 12 hours of early voting each day. (Here’s a related check on that.) So local elections supervisors had the choice to offer between 48 hours and 96 hours of early voting over eight days.
The Legislature is poised to tweak the state’s early voting system again in 2013 because of the long waits to vote in some places during the 2012 presidential election.
Scott, echoing proposals from the elections supervisors association, recommended the Legislature give supervisors the ability to offer between eight and 14 days of early voting, while maintaining six to 12 hours each day. He also wants to add more early voting sites.
So under Scott’s proposal, supervisors would be able to provide a maximum of 168 hours of early voting (14 days multiplied by 12 hours a day). On the flip side, the fewest number of hours they would be required to offer is 48 (eight days multiplied by six hours).
Activists behind the liberal campaign Pink Slip Rick disapproved of Scott’s proposal, saying Scott should have restored the number of days for early voting to 14, the way it was before the 2011 election law.
"Anything less than that is not a promise to restore or expand early voting," said Amy Ritter, executive director of Florida Watch Action, the liberal group behind Pink Slip Rick.
A few election supervisors we interviewed about Scott’s plan said they welcomed the idea of tailoring early voting to their home county’s needs.
"We kind of came to the conclusion that obviously, with Florida being such a huge and diverse state, one size does not fit all," said Brian Corley, Pasco County supervisor of elections.
Corley, who heads up legislative affairs for the state supervisors association, said he does not think Pasco would need the full 168 hours, but "it’s nice to have the option, if need be, for a major presidential election."
A spokeswoman for Broward County supervisor of elections Brenda Snipes said her office had not yet begun planning for the scenario under Scott’s plan but would probably go back to 14 days of early voting, the way things were before the Legislature’s 2011 law.
"We would likely conduct early voting as it was structured prior to HB 1355," said public services director Mary Cooney in an email.
Scott said that his proposal would allow "a potential of 168 hours, which I think is the most we’ve ever had" for early voting. He’s right that his proposal would give supervisors of elections the option to offer 168 hours of early voting, and that would be a record.
We should note that supervisors would also have the option to only offer 48 hours of voting, which is less than previous law. But Scott was very careful with his wording, noting that 168 hours was the maximum and outlining the specific days and hours.
A claim from his critics, Pink Slip Rick, said the law "only mandates 48 hours of early voting." We rated that Mostly True, because it didn't leave open the possibility of more hours. Scott's statement, on the other hand, specifically notes that the 168 hours are a maximum.
Scott chose his words carefully and precisely. We rate his statement True.