TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott has signed an elections bill that attempts to reverse some of the restrictions the Republican-controlled Legislature put in place in 2011, including allowing more early-voting.
The legislation is a response to the ridicule Florida received in the days after President Barack Obama's re-election when votes were still being counted in a few counties.
Scott's office said he signed the bill late Monday before leaving on a trade mission to Chile, but the signing wasn't announced until a day later.
“There were inefficiencies in the 2012 General Election - and our system needed to be corrected," Scott said in a statement Tuesday. "I asked the Legislature to enhance our system of elections and they met the challenge. This law will add more early voting locations, add more early voting days and shorten the length of our ballot.”
While Florida elections officials have maintained Florida wasn't late in calling a presidential winner -- the vote was just extraordinarily close, with Obama winning by 74,309 votes, or a final margin of less than 1 percent -- some urban counties like Miami-Dade, Broward and Orange saw lines that stretched for hours.
Miami-Dade, in particular, has been blasted for not re-aligning its voting precincts with updated population data, resulting in some polling sites that were slammed and others largely empty. Other counties like Palm Beach complained that vendors botched up ballots and software.
The bill, HB 7013, lets the State Department fine vendors $25,000 for voting-machine problems that don't get fixed.
Lawmakers also added a provision late in the session to move Florida's 2016 presidential primary back from January to a later date so the state won't be penalized by the national Republican and Democratic parties.
It also increases the allowable early voting hours, and goes from eight days to 14 days. The Legislature had reduced that early-voting window to one week in 2011, which some evidence has found decreased early-voting turnout last year -- particularly among minorities.
It also expands the locations for early voting from just election offices and city halls to include courthouses, civic centers, stadiums, convention centers, fairgrounds and government-owned senior and community centers.
"Sometimes it felt like climbing a mountain with concrete boots, but with the Governor's signature on this election reform package, Florida has achieved what many of us thought at one time might be impossible: a huge improvement to our democratic process and a giant step forward for Florida voters," said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.
The bill also places some restrictions on the length of legislatively authored constitutional amendments, which was another argument for long lines at the polls last fall. The Legislature placed 11 constitutional amendments on the ballot, all but three of which failed.
It also lets counties like Orange which are required to print multi-language ballots to ask the federal government for permission to print separate Spanish and English ballots to make them shorter.
And the bill eases other restrictions on when people who move would have to cast provisional ballots.
But Democrats and some voting-rights groups have been less-than-thrilled with the bill because it gives county election supervisors discretion in the number of hours of early voting they offer -- as much as 168 hours -- and whether or not to hold early voting on the Sunday before a general election. Some rural counties have said that Sunday is rarely used by voters, while it's a main get-out-the-vote day among minorities in more urban counties.
Earlier this month, the bill passed the House 115-1 and 27-13 in the Senate where it drew Democratic opposition.
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