Voters prepare to cast their votes during early voting in Miami Beach. (Alan Diaz / Associated Press…)
WASHINGTON — It wouldn’t be a close election without a fight over voting in Florida.
Saturday was scheduled to be the final day of early voting in the nation’s biggest swing state, where most polls have shown the race extraordinarily close. In many places, particularly in south Florida, where Democrats typically get their largest majorities, lines at polling places stretched for hours, with voters in some places waiting past midnight.
Worried that significant numbers of their voters might have been deterred by the wait, the Florida Democratic Party went to court in the wee hours of Sunday morning seeking an emergency order for polling places to remain open today. The suit cited “extraordinarily long lines” which it blamed on “inadequate polling facilities” in south Florida’s three big urban counties, Miami/Dade, Broward (Ft. Lauderdale) and Palm Beach.
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The state Legislature, which has a Republican majority, passed a law last year that reduced the number of early-voting days from 14 to eight and eliminated early voting on the Sunday before the election. In 2008, Democrats had voted heavily on that day. Many African American churches had organized congregants to go directly from services to the polls. On Thursday, the state’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott had refused a request from Democratic officials to extend voting hours this year.
But the law includes a loophole which election officials in at least two of the counties are taking advantage of: Election offices are allowed to be open for voters to drop off absentee ballots. On Sunday morning, officials in both Miami/Dade and Palm Beach counties announced that in addition to accepting absentee ballots, their main election offices would also be open all day to print out absentee ballots for voters who had not already requested them. Voters would be given ballots so long as they are in line by 5 p.m., the two counties said.
The move effectively turned the absentee ballot provision into something similar to an additional day of early voting, although absentee ballots are handled differently than regular in-person early votes. “Rather than require legal action, our office is taking a proactive position,” Palm Beach County election supervisor Susan Bucher said in a statement.
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A spokesperson for the Florida Democratic party, Brannon Jordan, said the party was “very happy with the response” but was continuing to work on extending hours in Broward County.
Separately, a state judge in Orlando ordered additional early voting hours at one polling place where a bomb threat on Saturday had delayed voting for several hours. Voters there will have to cast provisional ballots as the state Republican party appeals the order.
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