Gov. Scott changes stance on election reform
TAMPA - Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday he favors three top election law reforms demanded by Democrats in the wake of the state's problem-plagued 2012 election: more early voting days, more early voting sites and shorter ballots. The move completes a reversal by Scott, who signed the 2011 election bill that Democrats blame for the problems. Scott declined to extend early voting while it was under way before Election Day in November. He now advocates overturning some of the bill's key measures, which critics say were aimed at suppressing minority and Democratic votes. "Our ultimate goal must be to restore Floridians' confidence in our election system," Scott said in a written statement. "I look forward to working with the Legislature on a bi-partisan bill to implement these reforms this session."His position statement comes after Scott has taken a series of political punches on the issue. Thursday, the League of Women Voters held a news conference call to publicize research indicating the 2011 bill, known as House Bill 1355, disproportionately affected minorities, reducing the chances for blacks and Hispanics to have their votes counted. On Wednesday, a new poll showed Scott losing 53 percent to 39 percent to former Gov. Charlie Crist, who's expected to run against Scott in 2014. Crist has lost no opportunity to blast Scott on the election process and to issue calls for reform. On Tuesday, the Florida Legislative Black Caucus grilled Scott over issues including HB 1355. He took no responsibility for the bill, even though he signed it over pleas for a veto from Democrats and a few Republicans, said state Sen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, caucus chairwoman. "He's come full circle," Joyner said. "People are angry, not just legislators. Now that he's running for re-election, he gets it." League of Women Voters President Dierdre Macnab had just concluded her news conference call when Scott's statement was issued Thursday. "I had to be picked up off the floor," Macnab said, recalling that the League generated 16,000 calls and emails urging Scott to veto HB 1355 in 2011. "We're absolutely and thoroughly delighted," she said, calling it "the most essential first step" for needed reform. Macnab said she remains cautious about what the Legislature ultimately will pass. "The proof is in the pudding, and we'll watch to see what comes out of the kitchen. But right now the ingredients going in are looking good." A spokesman for Scott's office said his motives for taking his stance were simply the recommendations made by Secretary of State Ken Detzner. Scott had asked Detzner to look into the causes of the long lines and delayed vote count from the Nov. 6 voting. In his statement, Scott called for: University of Florida political scientist Dan Smith analyzed voter turnout statistics for the League. He concluded that HB 1355's restrictions on early voting contributed to the long lines, reducing voting opportunities for black and Hispanic voters. Long lines also pushed many minority voters toward absentee voting, he said. It's a process with which some were not familiar, likely resulting in rejected votes, Smith said. Compared with the 2008 election, early voting decreased in 2012, and absentee ballots — "a much less reliable form" and also more prone to fraud — increased. Absentee ballots cast by black and Hispanic voters, he said, also were more likely to be rejected by canvassing boards than ballots cast by whites. Smith said he hopes to do more research on whether that was because ballots were filled out incorrectly or vote counters were biased. "Is it the fault of the racial and ethnic minority voters? Perhaps," he said. "Is it the fault of the canvassing boards and election supervisors? Perhaps." Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described what Gov. Rick Scott told the Florida Black Caucus this week.
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