November 4, 2012 / 6:09 PM / 7 years ago

Early voting extended at Florida site hit with bomb scare

MIAMI (Reuters) - Early voting was extended on Sunday at a central Florida polling site that was disrupted a day earlier by a bomb scare, and voters were allowed to cast absentee ballots in person in several other counties that had been plagued by long lines.

Saturday was the last day for early voting in Florida, where polls showed Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney running neck-and-neck.

But Orange County Elections Supervisor Bill Cowles reopened the polls at one site, a library in the Orlando suburb of Winter Park, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

The library was evacuated and voting there was suspended for four hours on Saturday because suspicious items were found on the grounds. A bomb squad safely detonated both - a cooler containing small electronics and what investigators described as a bag of miscellaneous garbage.

Ballots cast at the library on Sunday will be held as provisional ballots in case of a successful challenge to the judge’s ruling that allowed the voting to resume on Sunday.

Florida, where 537 votes decided the 2000 presidential election in George W. Bush’s favor, is again a hotly contested state crucial to both presidential candidates.

In Miami, the Florida Democratic Party filed suit in U.S. District Court on Sunday asking for an extension of early voting opportunities in densely populated Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, where some voters waited six and seven hours to cast ballots on Saturday.

The lawsuit said the lines in the Democratic-leaning region were longer than in other areas, deterring or preventing people from voting.

The three southeastern counties are home to about 1.6 million registered Democrats - about a third of Florida’s total, the Miami Herald said.

The lawsuit did not ask the judge to reopen early voting sites and appeared to be largely moot. In Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, voters were allowed to obtain and cast absentee ballots in person at the election supervisors’ offices on Sunday.

“While state law does not permit early voting today, we are permitted to provide and accept absentee ballots,” the Miami-Dade elections office said on its website.

Voting at the Miami-Dade site was briefly halted and the office doors were locked when an unexpectedly large crowd showed up. Those who were lined up outside began chanting, “Let us vote, let us vote.”

Balloting resumed after additional staff and another printer were brought in.

Election supervisors’ offices were also opened in several other densely populated counties on Sunday for in-person absentee balloting.

Republican Governor Rick Scott refused on Thursday to extend early voting statewide despite the long lines.

Early voting ended a day earlier than in previous years. The Republican-controlled legislature cut maximum early voting days from 14 to eight, although total voting hours remained at 96 because the polls were allowed to remain open longer. Most urban counties offered the full 96 hours.

Deirdre Mcnab, president of Florida’s League of Women Voters, said the longest reported lines were at polling sites in urban areas and locations most convenient to college students, senior citizens and minority voters.

However, she said there appeared to be a backlash under way with many voters enduring difficult conditions to cast ballots.

“Florida voters are very aware of two things: No. 1, the importance of their vote in this national election and, No. 2, they are very aware of voter suppression laws. And we are so heartened to see they are voting in what so far appears to be record numbers,” Mcnab said.

Nearly 4 million Florida voters, or about 44 percent of the total, had already voted by absentee ballot or in person at early voting sites through Friday.

Reporting by Barbara Liston in Orlando and Jane Sutton in Miami; Editing by Paul Simao

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