Gov. Rick Scott, who in 2011 signed a controversial bill cutting the number of early-voting days from 14 to eight, reversed course and called for early voting to last up to 14 days.
The proposal comes about two months after the 2012 general election, which saw Florida voters waiting hours to vote, lower voter turnout and delayed elections results.
In a statement Thursday, Scott said he wants “to ensure we do whatever possible to improve our election system from the statewide level.”
Scott’s proposal also called for more early-voting locations and reducing ballot lengths, including shorter descriptions of constitutional amendments.
Daniel Smith, a UF political science professor, said he’s skeptical about Scott’s proposal.
“It remains to be seen if Gov. Scott’s endorsement of extending the number of early-voting days to two weeks is truly a change of heart or merely political pandering,” he said. “The governor … shed many a crocodile tear when thousands of Floridians were forced to wait in line for hours on end during the truncated eight-day voting period.”
The bill also eliminated early voting on the last Sunday before Election Day, prohibited voters from changing their addresses at the polls and required voters who live outside the county where they’re registered to cast provisional ballots.
Of the about 30,000 provisional ballots cast in Florida, one-fifth were found to be invalid and didn’t count toward the final election results, according to a report Smith co-authored.
The report found that black and Hispanic voters were nearly twice as likely as white voters to have their provisional ballots rejected.
Jonel Edwards, a 22-year-old UF political science senior and president of the Gator chapter of the NAACP, said she thinks Scott was trying to score political points when he called for more early voting days.
“While I welcome the return of 14 days for early voting, I in no way believe that Rick Scott has seen the light,” she said. “Even after the election in November, Scott stood by his cut of early-voting days that turned Election Day into a mess.”
In Alachua County, about 39,000 ballots were cast early in the 2012 election, a 22-percent drop from the 50,000 early votes cast in 2008, said Supervisor of Elections Pam Carpenter.
While long lines didn’t plague most Alachua County precincts in 2012, Carpenter said, history showed that residents would have used extra early-voting days to cast ballots.
“Had we had more early-voting days, we would have had more people take advantage of early voting,” she said.
Having more early-voting days can relieve some of the stress placed on voting precincts during elections, and, Carpenter said, having more early-voting days is more important than having longer early-voting days.