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Disputes Over Early Voting Ignite In Florida


The presidential election is still a day away and already disputes have broken out in Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Let us vote. Let us vote. Let us vote. Let us vote.

MONTAGNE: That was the scene recorded yesterday afternoon by the Miami Herald, outside the county elections supervisor's office in Miami-Dade County. Florida's Republican-dominated legislature this year cut back the number of days for early voting, from 14 to eight, and ended early voting on Saturday. But some counties opened elections offices yesterday, Sunday, to allow people to caste absentee ballots in person. Joining us to explain what's going on in Florida is NPR's Greg Allen. He's in Miami.

Good morning.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So Miami-Dade opened its elections office, specially on Sunday, to accept absentee ballots. So why what happened?

ALLEN: Well, you know, the unhappiness you heard there from people was the result of a week of a lot of frustration here throughout Florida. I'll explain. What happened here, going back some months, is that Florida's legislature, which is - as you mentioned - controlled by Republicans, this year cut back early voting, you know, from 14 to eight days, as you said.

Early voting has been very popular here over the last couple of presidential election, especially with Democrats in Florida. Four years ago, it was one of the things that was credited with helping Barack Obama win the state. So those shortened hours for early voting this year led to very long lines. It wasn't unusual this week, when I talked to people, to hear about people who waited four, five - some people waited eight hours to cast a ballot.

MONTAGNE: And why so long?

ALLEN: It's - I don't think it ended up being that surprising in the end. But it really has to do with how many people come out to vote. Early voting, as I said, was very popular here. They think that more than - between early voting and absentee balloting - that more than half the votes in the presidential election this year in Florida will be cast through that early vote process.

But during the early vote, there's a very limited number of stations. I forget exactly how many, but only about maybe 18 or something like that in Miami-Dade alone. And the lines get very long.

Another thing that's made it very difficult this year is the length of the ballot. Florida's legislature put 11 very complicated constitutional amendments on the ballot. And they take a lot of time to wade through. The ballot I filled out this past week was 12 pages long. You know, it took me about 10 minutes and I knew what I wanted to vote for when I walked in. So a lot...

MONTAGNE: So it doesn't - doesn't sound like so much to be done to shorten wait times.

ALLEN: No. I mean, there's been a call by Democrats throughout the week, and clearly toward the end of last week, asking the state governor - the governor - Florida - Florida Governor Rick Scott, to extend early voting hours. He refused. Said you'd only need to do so in case of an emergency.

Past - the Republican governors, Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush, have extended early voting hour. Rick Scott declined to do so. And then what we had is that the Democrats filed a lawsuit late - well, actually early Sunday morning, saying that we need to extend early voting hours.

Because of that, that's why the election supervisors kind of publicized this in-person absentee balloting, where you kind of walk in and you fill out an absentee ballot and then you hand it over. So they did that yesterday and it turned into that debacle there in Miami.

MONTAGNE: OK. So, Greg, just 30 seconds here. What happens now? You mentioned that lawsuit.

ALLEN: Well, it's not clear what the lawsuit can accomplish, actually, since early voting has ended. The election is tomorrow. It's not clear what that'll do. They're going to do more absentee balloting today. I think we'll see some more of those very long lines and hopefully not any of the fracas that we had here in Miami-Dade tomorrow.

But, you know, that said, Democrats have already gotten more votes than Republicans through this early voting process. So it'll be interesting to see how this plays out and what the long lines will be like on Election Day itself.

MONTAGNE: Greg, thanks very much.

ALLEN: My pleasure, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Greg Allen reporting from Miami.


MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.