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Early voting extension back in elections bill

By Regan McCarthy


Tallahassee, FL – A bill that would change elections procedures has passed out of the House and is set to hit the Senate's floor. The bill increases protections against voter fraud, imposes a stricter time frame for county officials to send absentee ballots, allows voters moving within a county to change their addresses at the polls and resets the primary election date stipulating that it must be held 12 weeks prior to the election. But as Regan McCarthy reports, it's the questions of the number of days during which absentee voting will be allowed that remains a subject of debate.

Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla of Miami who introduced the elections rules bill says he expects to present a future amendment on the Senate floor that would allow nine days of early voting while maintaining the same total number of hours that the polls would be open. Senator Don Gaetz of Destin is partnering with Diaz de la Portilla on the future amendment

"There is work going on to ensure that we have an amendment to this bill that will provide the exactly same number hours of early voting to this bill that will provide exactly the same number of early voting as we have had in the past. We have 96 hours of early voting now and the amendment that Senator Diaz de la Portilla and I are working on will provide for 96 hours of early voting going forward."

Gaetz explains if his amendment passes those hours will be consolidated into a smaller number of days so that the total number of days the polls will be open is limited to about nine. Gaetz says that means an increased number of hours per day the polls will be open, potentially making voting more convenient for those who can't make it to the polls during a typical 8-hour day. Additionally, Diaz de la Portilla says it's a cost saving measure saying the cost of running an early voting center equals about 3-thousand dollars per day per site. And Diaz de la Portilla says statistically voters are more likely to vote toward the end of the early voting period as election day draws nearer. But Senator Gwen Margolis of Miami, who proposed a rejected amendment to restore the number of early voting days to 14, says the money used to maintain a longer early voting period would be well spent.

" To me the voting public is the important public and if they vote, whether it's before election day or on election day, they should have the opportunity to vote. It's just a few thousand dollars a day and it's well worth it."
Gaetz says if an amendment such as the one he outlined earlier isn't passed on the Senate floor he will support an amendment similar to Senator Margolis's. Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale says she'd take a different route warning against what she calls drive-by democracy.

" I would eliminate early voting all together because I believe that democracy should not be a convenience. I think it's important that we recognize that we should be celebrating democracy and I would actually make Election Day a holiday and give everybody the time off."
The bill, which currently limits the number of absentee voting days to seven passed with a favorable recommendation from the Senate committee. Once passed, rules in the bill will apply to the upcoming 2012 Presidential Elections.