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Florida's unpopular Republican governor backs election reforms

Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks during an interview in New York March 26, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks during an interview in New York March 26, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida Governor Rick Scott, who rejected calls to extend early voting ahead of problem-plagued elections more than two months ago, said on Thursday he now supports the measure and other reforms aimed at restoring confidence in the election system.

Scott, a Republican, saw his low public approval rating sink even further after long voting lines and a slow vote count made Florida the brunt of late-night television jokes in November.

In a statement on Thursday, he said he was committed "to ensure we do whatever possible to improve our election system."

During hearings in the state capitol earlier this week lawmakers discussed measures to avoid another election like the one on November 6.

Scott said measures he now supports, as part of a statewide overhaul, include expanding the number of early voting days from eight to up to 14, giving local election supervisors the flexibility to provide more and larger early voting locations and reducing the length of ballots by clamping limits on ballot amendment summaries.

He said expanded voting days should include the Sunday before Election Day. Voting on that final Sunday, which traditionally drew a large turnout in Florida, was not permitted in the state last year except by in-person absentee ballot.

Scott's statement made no mention of the fact that he signed legislation, passed by Florida's Republican-dominated legislature soon after he took office in January 2011, that shortened the number of early voting days to eight from 14.

He had also rebuffed calls from Democrats, independents and some election supervisors to extend early voting in the run-up to the election, arguing that he foresaw no problems organizing a fair and honest vote.

Early voting has been an explosive issue in Florida, as it is across many southern states, with critics accusing Republicans of trying to cut down on the number of black voters, who use early voting at nearly twice the rate of white voters.

Florida's former Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who preceded Scott in the top job in the fourth-largest U.S. state, extended early voting while he held office.

A recent Public Policy Polling survey showed Crist, a newly minted Democrat, beating Scott by double digits in a hypothetical election matchup.

According to PPP, Scott's approval rating has fallen to 33-57, down from 37-48 for the former healthcare executive in November.

A December poll by Quinnipiac found that Scott's approval ratings were "just plain awful," with a majority agreeing he did not deserve a second term, and most Republicans hoping for a primary challenge.

(Reporting by Tom Brown)

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