ORLANDO (CBSMiami) — Some waited an hour. Some waited six hours. Voters were grateful the weather cooperated as they waited in line to cast their ballots on the last day of early voting Saturday. Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott stood firm against calls from Democrats and independent groups to give residents one more day to vote before Tuesday.
Amid long lines across the state, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson stood outside one jammed polling place in Orange County to call on the Republican governor to extend early voting through Sunday — but to no avail.
The face-off was the latest over what Democrats allege are Republican efforts to limit participation because early voting is widely seen as benefitting Democrats in some states The dispute comes a dozen years after Republican George W. Bush’s razor-thin win in the state following a U.S. Supreme Court decision to halt a recount.
Scott and state officials continued to insist there were no reasons to keep polls open beyond the eight days already authorized in state law. The GOP-controlled Florida Legislature last year rolled back the number of early-voting days from a maximum of 14 days to eight days. The move triggered a legal battle, but the reduction was upheld by federal courts.
During a Republican campaign event in Orange Park on Friday, Scott stressed that any Florida voter who got in line before polls closed Saturday would get a chance to vote.
“People are getting out to vote. That’s what’s very good,” Scott said. “People are getting out to vote, they’re voting absentee, they’re voting early voting…I’m focused on making sure that we have fair, honest elections. One thing to know, these early voting days and on Election Day, if you’re there by the time the polls close, you get to vote.”
Nelson, however, said that the cut in early voting days was “intended to suppress the vote.”
The senator sent a letter to Scott in which he said that the problems could be “jeopardizing the credibility of Florida’s election.” He asked Scott to use his emergency powers to keep the polls open.
Nelson, who himself is seeking re-election, cited the long lines and problems with limited parking as reasons to extend early voting one more day “in the interest of fairness.”
“You’ve never seen lines like this,” Nelson said. “…We ought to be making voting convenient for the voter. We shouldn’t be making it more difficult.”
Even before the final weekend before the election, some 3.9 million Floridians had voted early or through the mail, according to state election officials. There are nearly 12 million active registered voters in the state.
Long lines were reported across the state, including a six-hour wait time at one early-voting site in Miami-Dade County. Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer asked for more early-voting time, but was told by state officials that no emergency existed to justify an extension.
“As state officials, we are bound to follow the law,” Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner wrote Sawyer.
James Colimon was waiting in line at the early voting site at the Winter Park library in Orange County but he had to leave two and a half hours later to pick up his daughter. He said his wife was still in line and that he planned to return later.
“I wish the governor would have extended early voting,” Colimon said.
Later in the day, however, voting was suspended at that site because of a cooler found outside the library. The discovery prompted officials to evacuate the building. A bomb squad was called in, which took the cooler and planned to blow it up.
AP Political Writer Brendan Farrington contributed to this story from Orange Park. AP writer Suzette Laboy contributed from Miami.
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