Judge orders 1 Fla. county to extend early voting

Associated Press
In this Nov. 3, 2012, photo, South Floridians stand in line during the last day of early voting in Miami. A judge extended early voting hours in one Florida county Sunday, Nov. 4, after Democrats sued to allow more time in a presidential battleground state where more than 4 million ballots have already been cast. The move was one of many legal skirmishes in the tight contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to deal with inevitable disputes over balloting. Some Florida voters had stood in long lines Saturday, the last scheduled day of early voting. The judge ruled on a lawsuit filed late Saturday in Orange County after an early voting site was shut down for several hours. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A judge extended early voting hours in one Florida county on Sunday after the state Democratic Party sued in an effort to give people more time at the polls.

Some voters had faced waits several hours long on Saturday, the last scheduled day of early voting. The judge ruled on a lawsuit filed late Saturday in Orange County after an early voting site was shut down for several hours. The Winter Park library was evacuated when a suspicious package — a cooler — was found outside. It was later detonated by a local bomb squad.

Bill Cowles, the Orange County elections supervisor, said that voters who show up on Sunday will be asked to use a provisional ballot because the Republican Party of Florida had appealed the decision. The extra hours will be offered at only the Winter Park library.

The state party also filed a federal lawsuit Sunday morning seeking more voting time in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Voting in Miami-Dade County and Palm Beach County didn't wrap up until early Sunday morning because voters standing in line when the polls closed were allowed to vote.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and other Democrats asked Gov. Rick Scott this past week to use his emergency powers to extend early voting. The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature last year cut the number of days available for early voting from a maximum of 14 days to eight days.

Scott and state election officials, however, turned down the extension requests. Secretary of State Ken Detzner maintained that there was not a true emergency that justified the extension. Chris Cate, a spokesman for Detzner, said that the state did not plan to appeal the decision to reopen the Winter Park location.

The federal lawsuit says counties should offer absentee ballot voting at local election offices if early voting cannot be extended. Both Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties said they planned to do that.

"I decided to open because we are allowed to do so," said Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher.

Bucher noted that voting in her county did not wrap up until 2:30 a.m. Sunday. Her office started accepting absentee ballots at 9 a.m.

Christina White, deputy supervisor with Miami-Dade County, said the county also decided to accept absentee ballots for four hours on Sunday at its main office.

"We are hoping that (the Democratic Party) is happy with that," White said.

Broward County is also allowing voters to pick up absentee ballots on Sunday, but only if they made an appointment in advance.

Absentee ballot voting differs from early voting in that voters must fill out their ballot, place it an envelope and then sign it. The ballot envelopes are opened later and then fed into voting machines.

During early voting, voters place their ballots directly into the voting machines.

The Orange County lawsuit asked that early voting be extended at Winter Park and that the court ask local television and radio stations to let voters know about it.

The lawsuit included sworn statements from several voters who said they waited in line for hours and were turned away because voting was suspended at the site. A volunteer with the campaign of President Barack Obama said that the crowd of voters dwindled from 300 to just 40 after voting was halted.

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