Florida Governor Rick Scott’s elections chief is defending changes to election law that shrink the number of days for early voting by arguing that polling places will be open the same number of hours they are now. Yes, fewer days, Secretary of State Kurt Browning wrote in a May 23, 2011, guest column in the St. Petersburg Times. But longer hours on those days.
HB 1355, which Scott signed into law May 19, cuts the number of days of early voting from 14 to 8, makes it harder for third-party voter registration groups to register prospective voters and requires voters who change their address from one county to another on the day of an election to cast a provisional ballot, which would then be reviewed by the county canvassing board.
Browning and Republicans who supported the law say the changes will better protect the state’s voting system against fraud. Democrats say the changes are an attempt to suppress voter turnout.
“To combat voter fraud, reduce the burden on poll workers and provide needed flexibility to local election supervisors, the number of days polls remain open has been reduced from 14 possible days to eight days, even as the total number of hours available for early voting will remain the same,” Browning wrote in a column titled “Florida’s early voting remains at 96 hours.”
“The result is that working voters will be able to vote before or after work, something they haven’t been able to do in the past,” he wrote. “That added flexibility will enable more people than ever to take advantage of early voting. And, if an election supervisor finds it’s not absolutely necessary to keep all of his or her polling places open a full 12 hours a day, which isn’t unusual for rural areas, he or she has the flexibility to save taxpayer money by not employing poll workers that aren’t needed.
“Critics of the new election law suggest there will be less time to vote. That is just not the case. Now, more than ever, voters have more options to choose from in order to take advantage of early voting.”
In closing Browning wrote: “Today, the following remains true: Early voting remains at 96 hours, with greater flexibility for counties … ”
We wanted to see if Browning is right.