TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill late Monday night that will allow supervisors of elections to restore the early voting days he and the Legislature cut just two years earlier.
The 2011 law was partly to blame for the long lines last November that once again made Florida voting a national laughing stock.
Throughout last year's election, Scott vigorously defended his decision to sign a bill that, among other things, cut early voting days from 14 to eight and eliminated early voting on the Sunday before Election Day. Then in January, after critics lambasted Florida's voting, Scott said he supported more early voting days and sites and shorter ballots.
The Republican governor quietly signed the bill right before he left on a trade mission to Chile. Scott's communications office wasn't aware that the bill had been signed until it was notified by The Associated Press on Tuesday.
“There were inefficiencies in the 2012 General Election — and our system needed to be corrected. 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,” Scott said in a statement issued by his office late Tuesday afternoon
The new law will allow elections supervisors to hold at least eight days of early voting but supervisors will have the option of holding up to 14, including the Sunday before Election Day, when many black churches previously held “souls to the polls” voter drives.
“This bill will go a long way in repairing the damage done by the 2011 voter suppression bill, but citizens must stay vigilant to ensure that our elections system does not slide backwards at any point in the future,” said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, in a statement.
Elections supervisors also will have more options on where they can hold early voting, including at civic centers, convention centers, fairgrounds and community and senior centers.
The optional early voting days will particularly help large counties, but doesn't force smaller counties with few voters to open polls when there is little demand.
“We really appreciate the legislature taking into consideration that one size does not fit all,” said Vicki Davis, the Martin County supervisor of elections and the president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.
The law, which takes effect next January, also moves Florida's presidential primary from the last Tuesday in January to the first Tuesday that doesn't violate national Democratic and Republican party rules.
Florida, by voting early, has violated party rules that dictate when states can hold presidential primaries each of the past two elections, leading to punishments such as a reduced number of delegates at nominating conventions.
The law also requires a maximum 75-word ballot summary on constitutional amendments proposed by lawmakers. That limit could be exceeded if the state Supreme Court rejects the language and it has to be revised. Last year, the Legislature loaded up the ballot with anti-abortion, tax cut and other questions designed to bring out conservative voters. The ballot length added to the long lines.
Among other provisions, elections supervisors must post online their election preparation plans three months before the general election.
Also, paid ballot collectors will be prohibited from possessing more than two absentee ballots other than their own or their family members'.
Election equipment vendors will be held more accountable for problems with voting machines and could face a fine of $25,000 for not reporting or failing to correct defects.
One provision Davis said will make it more difficult for some voters is a requirement that a voter sign any absentee ballot requests if it is to be mailed to an address other than the one on their voter registration. She said there are many voters who have ballots sent to Northern states where they have second homes.
“That will make it a little bit more onerous on the part of the voters than it has in the past, but we'll have to educate our voters,” Davis said.