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What's slower in Florida, counting ballots or fixing flawed system?

December 04, 2012|By James Rainey
  • A worker prepares boxes of absentee ballots to be scanned at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department in Doral, Fla.
A worker prepares boxes of absentee ballots to be scanned at the Miami-Dade… (Wilfredo Lee / Associated…)

Florida’s secretary of state took a grilling Tuesday from lawmakers about why the Sunshine State struggles to provide efficient elections and vote tallies. But officials still seemed to lack the clear resolve to end the state’s long polling waits and stagecoach-era ballot tabulation systems a dozen years after disputed Florida voting threw the presidential election into a constitutional crisis.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who oversees the state’s elections, blamed the delays on election supervisors in five mostly urban counties.

Gov. Rick Scott has refused to accept responsibility for long lines that kept people waiting to vote past midnight in some locations, even though he led the charge to provide less early voting time.

State Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, said he planned to call a January hearing to quiz the “underperforming” election supervisors — in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, Lee and St. Lucie counties. The secretary of state has not yet clearly specified what went wrong in those counties.

MAP: 2012 Presidential election results

“There's enough blame to go around,” said Latvala.

Indeed. And there are also enough lingering problems in other states that Congress should move to impose uniform voting standards and systems across the country. It’s been said before but Florida proved it again a month ago — the nation held up as the model of democracy must end, once and for all, our banana republic electoral culture.

Charles Stewart, a co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, told Reuters last month that one quick improvement for Florida would be to professionalize the ranks of those who supervise elections in the state’s 67 county election operations.

Floridians vote for the elections supervisors in partisan balloting, unlike most other states, where elections officials advance through the civil service based on professional acumen.

Another possible factor in slow voting and tabulations: Long ballots in the Nov. 6 general election, which included 11 proposed state constitutional amendments.

The Republican-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Scott previously cut early voting from 14 days to eight days. Despite claims that the smaller voting window exacerbated problems, Scott insisted: “We did the right thing.”

National reports from the Caltech/MIT project have previously questioned the efficacy of expanding absentee voting, contending the systems don’t always have enough controls to assure that only one ballot goes to each registered voter.

Absentees can also lead to delays when it comes time to count the vote. Heavily populated Miami-Dade County, for example, collected 400,000 absentees, each of which needed to have a voter signature verified before the vote could be counted. Some 56,000 of the absentees came in on the two days leading up to the election.

It took until Nov 10, four days after the election, for Florida to declare President Obama the victor over Republican challenger Mitt Romney. With more than 8.4 million votes cast, Obama prevailed by about 73,000 votes.

The Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, initiated after the 2000 Florida voting mess, reported earlier this year that less than half the problems plaguing voting systems nationally had been resolved.

The project’s co-director, Stewart, expressed impatience to Reuters with the lack of progress in Florida.

“When the same mistakes and the same problems come in year after year after year, it tells you that just the basics of crowd management and customer service are not being applied,” Stewart said. “There are other states with close races and they don't seem to have these problems. There are other states with even longer ballots and they don't have these problems.”

To put it more succinctly: Florida, you look silly and small. Don’t force us to be writing this story all over again in 2016.

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