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Florida governor orders review of election laws after voting snafus

By Michael Peltier

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida Governor Rick Scott ordered his top elections official on Wednesday to figure out what caused long lines at polling stations and delays in ballot counting in the battleground state on Election Day.

A week after Florida again made headlines for an election fiasco that forced voters to wait hours to cast ballots after polls closed and caused long delays in counting votes, Scott urged lawmakers to review recent changes to state election laws that critics say contributed to the problems.

"Floridians should not have to wait several days for the results of a major presidential election to be tabulated because of the delays in a few counties when the majority of counties, including major metropolitan areas, have been counted," Scott said in a statement.

Scott, a Republican, has faced intense criticism over the delays and long lines.

Last year, Scott backed a law passed by Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature that reduced the number of early voting days and put in place restrictions making it harder to register voters.

Democrats and voting rights groups criticized the law, arguing it unfairly targeted Democrats and specifically minorities who disproportionately voted early.

The result of the reduced early voting was long lines that stretched around blocks and lasted for hours in parts of Florida.

Advocacy groups, led by the Florida League of Women Voters, have called for the changes to be rolled back.

The governor said the state's top elections official, Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner, will focus on problems that plagued Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties.

Each of the counties experienced delays reporting voting results.

Scott also said the voting law should be addressed in the upcoming legislative session, which begins in March.

"We encourage legislators to have a bipartisan, open and vigorous discussion about what changes need to be made to current Florida election law," Scott said.

The governor's comments come as Democrats began putting forward their own reform proposals and Republican legislative leaders also called for another review of state election laws.

"The effectiveness and fairness of the laws governing our elections have been brought into question by the past election," Rep. Darryl Rouson, a Democrat, said in a statement. "Our Legislature should not be a prisoner to its own laws."

Incoming Republican House Speaker Will Weatherford said the election law passed last year may have contributed to the problems, but that it was too early to tell.

He rejected assertions the changes were intended to blunt turnout in Florida by supporters of U.S. President Barack Obama.

"It's not a good thing when it's Friday, three days after the election, and every state in the country is either red or blue (except) there is one that is yellow because they haven't counted the votes," Weatherford said.

"That is something we should be embarrassed by," he added.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Stacey Joyce)

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