Floridians who've been spending up to four hours waiting in long early-voting lines just got some relief from an unexpected source. Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, has decided to extend early voting hours significantly.
State law had provided for early voting to take place for eight hours a day on weekdays and a total of eight hours on the weekend. Now, it will occur 12 hours a day -- from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. -- for the rest of this week, and a total of 12 hours this weekend.
Florida Democrats had pushed hard for the extension, which is likely to be good news for Barack Obama. Early voters have skewed heavily Democratic, thanks in part to the Obama campaign’s aggressive organizing.
As the governor of a legendarily vital swing state, Crist could have a real impact on the outcome of this election. So far, his actions have been pretty unpredictable. On one hand, many political observers credit Crist with delivering Florida's Republican primary and thus the presidential nomination to John McCain. On the other, this isn’t the first time Crist has divorced election administration from partisanship in a way that could potentially hurt his party. A year ago, he gave most felons their voting rights back. That move was widely interpreted as a boon for Democrats. If that had been done before the 2000 election, one study concluded, Vice President Al Gore would have received some 60,000 additional votes in the state.
The latest move was not greeted with enthusiasm by at least one member of Crist's own party. Politico's Ben Smith reports that a Florida Republican told him that Crist "just blew Florida for John McCain."