TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) — Voters in Florida have grown accustomed to long lines at the polls. But that may change if the state heeds a set of suggestions from Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
Detzner released a set of recommendations aimed at improving the voting process after he was tasked with studying the issue by Gov. Rick Scott (R).
“It was very clear after the 2012 General Election that our elections needed to be run more efficiently, and after meeting with elections experts throughout the state, I am confident that we have identified the right adjustments to ensure our system is improved,” Detzner said in a statement.
The secretary of state released a 12-page report that recommends up to 14 days of extended early voting, a limit on the length of ballots, and improvements to voting equipment.
“[It was] believed by all that the election process should be improved upon,” reads the report. “The area for improvement most commonly mentioned was the length of lines at polling places, which were believed to have been caused by the record number of voters, a shortened early voting schedule, inadequate voting locations and a long ballot.”
More Floridians — about 8.5 million — voted in the 2012 election than ever before, yet the state reduced the number of early voting days last year. The state had the longest wait times in the entire country in 2012, and some people reported standing in line for up to six hours.
A record number of Florida residents — about 2.4 million — also voted absentee in the election, and according to the secretary of state’s report, election officials reported problems with that process as well. They reported issues with contractors hired to handle the mailing of the ballots, and they said they were also inundated with “in-person absentee” voter requests.
The report offers several suggestions, but cautions that they may not be realistic.
“In some cases, counties will have already received tens of thousands of absentee ballots by this date,” says the report. “For supervisors to be best prepared for Election Day, absentee ballots should be nearly, if not entirely, counted by the Sunday before Election Day. However, this may not be logistically possible under current law for some counties. Furthermore, the significant increase of regular and ‘in-person absentee’ ballots required many supervisors to continue canvassing absentee ballots days after Election Day.”
The report also lashed out at media for falsely reporting that Florida was the last state to finish counting ballots. Election results, the report points out, could be called in less competitive states before all the votes were actually tallied.
While that is true, the state does have a contentious election history. A recount of votes was ordered in 2000 due to unclear election results. And the Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against Scott in 2012 after he declined to extend early voting into Sunday, a popular voting day for members of African-American churches who participate in “souls to the polls” events, even in the face of reports of long waiting lines.
The recommendations in the report are just that — recommendations. But they’re worth examining, and Scott indicated in a statement that he supports the suggested fixes.
“I look forward to working with the Legislature,” he said, “as we turn these three key recommendations into law over the weeks and months ahead.”
While some solid blue or red states such as California and, currently, Texas, have the luxury of announcing election winners before every last ballot is counted, Florida is often too tight to call. The state has been and is likely to remain a true swing state where every last vote counts.
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