Fla. Lawmakers Push to Extend Early Voting Period

It's a debate that began even before the Capitol's majority republicans engineered a sweeping overhaul of Florida's elections.

Monday, democrats continue to lash out at what they call a politically-driven attempt to make it more difficult for minorities to vote. And now, Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich is filing a bill that would once again extend Florida's early voting period to two weeks.

Ben Wilcox with the Florida League of Women Voters points to the long lines of 2008 as reason enough to keep the polls open as long as possible.

"It's very popular among minority groups. In the African-American community, people like to go vote early after church on the Sunday before the election, and as the law is now, that day has been taken away from them."

The bill would go even further and mandate early voting polls be kept open 12 hours a day, four hours longer than in 2008. There's a political benefit for democrats here - three years ago they won 22 percent more of the early vote than did republicans. But GOP leaders insist that has nothing to do with their reforms.

"The first week is pretty much a throw-away," said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami. "Very few people show up. People vote in higher numbers during early voting when it gets closer to the election, because there's more of a sense of urgency."

No matter who's being more honest, the fact remains that republicans are still in charge. And the democratic bill may not even get a hearing without a wave of public pressure.

Even if the legislative attempt to extend the early voting period fails, keep your eye on a lawsuit challenging the entire republican election reform package on the grounds it violates the voting rights act.

Republicans point out the reforms they passed earlier this year actually let election supervisors lengthen daily early voting hours, to 12 hours a day from eight.

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