The Senate sponsor of the bill that cut the number of early voting days in Florida from 14 to eight has filed a new proposal that would add back one day — the Sunday before Election Day – after criticism that eliminating that “Souls to the Polls” day was meant to reduce black turnout in the presidential election. But some critics say nine days are not enough for large counties, including Palm Beach, where some voters waited in line for eight hours to cast ballots in 2012. And the latest proposal filed by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican lawyer from Miami who was instrumental in shortening the number of early voting days in a 2011 election bill (HB 1355), is a departure from what the state’s supervisors of elections are seeking.
Diaz de la Portilla said he never intended to suppress black vote by scrapping the Sunday before Election Day. “That’s what some folks are alleging. That clearly was not my design. It wasn’t something that even crossed my mind. But there are some who have made that allegation. So if it creates a false perception I want to address it,” Diaz de la Portilla said. “If there is a perception there is a problem, we need to address the perception as well.” Critics say the shorter voting period contributed to chaos in the presidential election, especially in large counties.
The senator filed his bill Monday, the same day the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections agreed to ask lawmakers to allow eight to 15 days of early voting and leave the decision on the number of days up to local officials.
Instead, Diaz de la Portilla’s measure (SB 176) adds just the Sunday before Election Day banned in his election law two years ago. In 2008, many voters in black communities cast their ballots after attending church on that Sunday, in a turnout drive dubbed “Souls to the Polls.”
His measure would increase the total number of hours available while essentially keeping the same number of days plus the “Souls to the Polls the Sunday before the election,” he said. “Good ideas are going to come forward. And I’m flexible and open to anything that makes the process smoother and better,” he said.