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Criticism, Questions Mount About Florida's Voting and Counting Process

November 8, 2012 - 6:00pm

>With Florida going into Thursday as the only state in the union that hadn't determined which presidential candidate won, criticism of the voting system again began to mount and calls arose for a new look at voting procedures.

The state's Democratic Party chairman blamed Gov. Rick Scott's administration and said moves to curtail early voting were part of what caused delays at the polls on Election Day.

Most of the state experienced problem-free voting. But in Miami-Dade County, many voters remained in line long after the race was called, with some voters reportedly waiting for more than six hours to cast a ballot on Election Day. The delay was despite the fact that half the state's voters had already voted before Tuesday.

"It is appalling that two days after the election, Florida was not able to report our presidential election results," Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said in a statement late Thursday. "This embarrassment lays at the feet of Governor Rick Scott, who made a decision to cut early voting in half and continually refused to extend early voting hours in light of the record turnout."

Technically, the Republican-controlled Legislature shortened the early voting period, though Scott signed the bill.

Al Gore, who lost the presidency in 2000 after similar voting confusion in Florida, also said problems in Florida and other states were the result of "governors and state legislatures that have intentionally tried to prevent people from voting."

Gore said on Current TV, the cable network he founded, that long waits in Florida were "un-American."

It's not clear yet what caused the problem in Miami-Dade County. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez asked fellow commissioners to form a group to review precinct-by-precinct what happened with an eye toward making recommendations about changes.

Gimenez said he would ask county Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley for a report on what happened and press Scott and the Legislature to extend early voting days and increase the number of voting sites. Gimenez told The Miami Herald he wants double or triple the number of early voting sites in the next presidential election.

The Herald quoted Miami-Dade Commissioner Javier Souto as saying that overall, the system did work.

"The system got a little bit, uh, difficult at times, but it was about the people, too," Souto said. "I think there's always ways to improve on the mechanics of the thing."

Scott has already asked Secretary of State Ken Detzner to make recommendations for what might be done better, Detzner said Thursday.

"I think every year since 2000 we have improved on the process," Detzner said. "We learned something on Tuesday, and we learned something on early voting. The governor has asked the Department of State and myself to come and make some recommendations to him, which were going to do to solve some of the issues with regard to the enthusiasm for early voting.

"Its an administrative issue," Detzner continued. "I think we can address it and have it fixed for the next time and I think thats what people want and were going to fix it."

Part of the issue is that turnout was high. Detzner noted that in Miami-Dade County nearly 30,000 absentee ballots arrived on Monday, with a similar number again on Tuesday.

"And those ballots have to be opened, signatures have to be validated and so it takes a little bit of time to count those votes, but most importantly, were counting them accurately and that takes a little extra time and the turnout being so big, just took a little extra time," Detzner said.

There were also reports of very long lines in a couple of Southwest Florida counties.

Elections supervisors always say they hope for blow-out elections because many of the problems with the system are there all the time but only get revealed in close contests.

Florida had that on Tuesday, with the tally for President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney nearly even as most counties finished their regular vote counts. The state's final outcome was largely moot because the election was decided in other states, with Obama winning without Florida's help.

Other critics of the process on Tuesday pointed to the state's long ballot. Voters had to wade through 11 constitutional amendments, several of which were difficult reading. Officials don't keep tabs on the average time it takes voters to fill out their ballots, but several observers noted the process likely took longer this week slowing things down because of the long list of amendments. Most of the amendments failed.

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