After declining to use his emergency powers to expand early voting to ease hours-long waits last month, Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday said Florida should look at changing the new law he signed that reduced the opportunity to cast in-person ballots before Election Day.
But some critics say Scott must share the blame.
Testifying before a U.S. Senate committee, former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, a newly minted Democrat, criticized Scott for signing the law and failing to extend early voting when he had the chance.
The law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to eight. The days cut included the Sunday before Election Day, which typically drew large numbers of Democratic-leaning black voters to early balloting sites after church, a convergence dubbed "souls to the polls."
"We've got to look back at the number of days of early voting we had," Scott said during a separate appearance, on CNN's "Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien. "We need to have a bipartisan group come together, Republicans and Democrats, and say we have to improve this, restore the confidence of all Americans in the election process in Florida."
The Republican governor also said Florida should look at limiting the length of its ballot and giving local election officials more flexibility in determining the size of polling sites.
Thousands of Florida voters faced long lines and waited for hours to cast ballots during early voting and on Election Day. Among the factors blamed for the delays: The reduction in early voting days, a long ballot weighed down by 11 constitutional amendments proposed by the Legislature and an insufficient number of voting booths.
In defending his refusal to allow early voting on the last Sunday before the election, Scott told O'Brien that he was simply complying with the law, but he added "We do need change."
Crist, meanwhile, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., that Florida's voting problems were the result of decisions by Scott and lawmakers.
"Florida, which four years earlier was a model for efficiency, became once again a late-night TV joke," he said.
Crist said in 2008 that he ordered early voting hours extended because of long lines, noting that he and his then-chief of staff, former U.S. Sen. George Lemieux, "figured out a legal justification."
Crist is a potential challenger to Scott in 2014. He dropped his Republican affiliation in 2010 when it became clear he would lose the GOP's U.S. Senate nomination to now-Sen. Marco Rubio. Crist opted to run instead without party affiliation but then lost to Rubio in the general election.
After campaigning for Democratic President Barack Obama this year, Crist officially became a Democrat last Thursday.
A Qunnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed Scott's job approval rating at a dismal 36 percent while Crist had a 47 percent favorable rating. The poll of 1,261 registered Florida voters has a 2.8 percent plus or minus margin of error.
Scott pointed out to O'Brien that the U.S. Justice Department signed off on a plan for implementing the eight-day early voting schedule after a three-judge federal court panel ruled the reduction in days did not violate the federal Voting Rights Act in the five Florida counties covered by the law because of past discrimination. While reducing the number of early voting days, the law allowed local election officials to retain the same 96 hours allowed in 2008 by making those days longer.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, raised the same issue with Crist, saying the court had rejected the argument that the law would suppress turnout by minorities who tend to vote Democratic.
Crist responded that on Election Day he visited polling places in a couple heavily black South Florida communities, where people were waiting in line for hours.
"I'm not sure what the court was looking at, but I know what I saw and it was suppressive," Crist said.