Judge orders 1 Florida county to extend early voting

Scott McIntyre/Staff 
  
 Since the beginning of the early voting period starting this past Saturday, long lines have formed outside the polling precincts.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE // Buy this photo

Scott McIntyre/Staff Since the beginning of the early voting period starting this past Saturday, long lines have formed outside the polling precincts.

— A judge extended early voting hours in one Florida county on Sunday after the state Democratic Party sued in an effort to give people more time at the polls.

Some voters had faced waits several hours long on Saturday, the last scheduled day of early voting. The judge ruled on a lawsuit filed late Saturday in Orange County after an early voting site was shut down for several hours. The Winter Park library was evacuated when a suspicious package — a cooler — was found outside. It was later detonated by a local bomb squad.

Bill Cowles, the Orange County elections supervisor, said that voters who show up on Sunday will be asked to use a provisional ballot because the Republican Party of Florida had appealed the decision. The extra hours will be offered at just the Winter Park library.

The state party also filed a federal lawsuit Sunday morning seeking more voting time in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Voting in Miami-Dade County didn't wrap up until around 1 a.m. Sunday because voters standing in line when the polls closed were allowed to vote.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson as well as other Democrats asked Gov. Rick Scott this past week to use his emergency powers to extend early voting. The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature last year cut the number of days available for early voting from a maximum of 14 days to eight days.

Scott and state election officials, however, turned down the extension requests. Secretary of State Ken Detzner maintained that there was not a true emergency that justified the extension.

The federal lawsuit says counties should offer absentee ballot voting at local election offices if early voting cannot be extended.

Christina White, deputy supervisor with Miami-Dade County, said the county had already planned to accept absentee ballots for four hours at its main office.

"That's a service we already provided," White said. "We are hoping that (the Democratic Party) is happy with that."

Absentee ballot voting differs from early voting in that voters must fill out their ballot, place it an envelope and then sign it. The ballot envelopes are opened later and then fed into voting machines.

During early voting, voters place their ballots directly into the voting machines.

The Orange County lawsuit asked that early voting be extended at Winter Park and that the court ask local television and radio stations to let voters know about it.

The lawsuit included sworn statements from several voters who said they waited in line for hours and were turned away because voting was suspended at the site. A volunteer with the campaign of President Barack Obama said that the crowd of voters dwindled from 300 to just 40 after voting was halted.

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