Bill Cowles, the Supervisor of Elections for Orange County, Florida, opened up his office on West Kaley Street in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday morning to hand out absentee ballots. Cowles’s decision to hand out absentee ballots is a clever response to Florida Republican governor Rick Scott’s decision not to extend early voting.
Last year, Florida’s legislature reduced early voting days from 14 to eight. The change was ratified by both Scott and the federal courts. After record early voter turnout throughout Florida, with voters waiting for hours to cast their ballots, individuals and groups across the state asked for early voting to be extended. Governor Scott refused to acquiesce to the request, despite the fact that previous Florida governors, including Republicans like Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush, extended early voting when needed.
Scott’s refusal to extend the early voting period will affect the election in several ways. First, last year’s legislative change, ending early voting on the Saturday prior to the election, instead of the Sunday prior, will counter the “souls to the polls” strategy, where community churches encourage African-Americans to go to the polls after Sunday morning service. Second, more Democrats than Republicans participate in early voting. It has been suggested that Scott strategically refused to extend early voting in order to prevent Democrats from voting, therefore aiding Romney’s chances of winning Florida, which has the highest number of electoral votes of any of the battleground states. Regardless of political affiliation, Florida saw a higher percentage of early voter turnout this year than in 2008, resulting in longer lines and wait times extending as long as eight hours. Long wait times deterred many potential voters from casting their ballot.
Long lines during early voting forecasts long lines on Election Day, which may again discourage voters from actually casting their ballot. In addition to the presidential election, other issues are at stake on the Florida ballot. Eleven constitutional amendments make proposals such as blocking the implementation of Obamacare, reducing property taxes for injured veterans, and repealing a woman’s right to privacy should she desire an abortion. Apparently, Rick Scott doesn’t want complete input on how his own constituents would like things done in their state.
Scott’s refusal to extend early voting targets minorities, may shift voter turnout in favor of Romney, and deters Floridians from casting their ballot. Luckily, Floridians can count on clever officials like Orange County’s Supervisor of Elections to hand out absentee ballots, hopefully continuing the momentum built up during early voting in this battleground state.