New Hampshire

Elections Supervisors: Lines Shouldn't Top 60 to 90 Minutes

By: Jim Turner | Posted: January 14, 2013 3:00 PM
Eleanor Sobel, Mike Ertel and Jack Latvala

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel and Sen. Jack Latvala

With some voters waiting in line up to seven hours to cast their ballots -- in one Democratic-leaning county they were urged out by late weekend robocalls -- county elections supervisors suggested that a 60- to 90-minute maximum wait-time could be more acceptable in the future.

Appearing before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, a number of county supervisors said it’s difficult to put an arbitrary, acceptable duration on the voting experience.

But the general consensus of those appearing before the committee was to get people through the line at the most crowded locations in less than 90 minutes.

“I love to knock all that down to nothing more than one hour to an hour and a half,” said Lee County Supervisor Sharon Harrington.

Lines in Lee County reached three hours during early voting and at nearly one-third of the precincts on Election Day.

Supervisor of Elections David Stafford of Escambia County, where the longest lines topped one hour in 2012, said too many variables could back up the process that was highly criticized in the Florida media.

“I’m not going to venture a guess,” Stafford said. “What is acceptable in one county is not acceptable in another.”

Only one supervisor, Susan Bucher of Palm Beach County, claimed that the longest wait time was shorter in 2008.

Supervisors from several counties said they advised voters that lines for early voting were shorter at other locations and that voting on Election Day could be shorter. But most didn’t step out of line.

Bucher said the seven-hour wait experienced on the Saturday before Election Day was in part because a campaign robocalled voters to get out for early voting.

“They were told to get in line at 7 p.m.,” said Bucher, who declined to name the campaign after Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, asked if the voters were encouraged to turn out out just before the polls closed to create a public relations problem.

The meeting was mostly informational, focused on the problems experienced during the general election and for recommendations to ease the process in the future.

Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel says the state should reconsider its 100-foot limit on where candidates and supporters can stand outside polling locations when lines of voters occur outside precincts and early voting locations.

Appearing before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, Ertel joined other supervisors in urging the legislators to provide more flexibility on where and how many days early voting could be held, and to limit the number of words they can use for their own constitutional amendments.

While the recommendations are intended to limit the long lines that were widely reported throughout the state in the 2012 general election, Ertel noted that when lines did occur, they have exceeded the 100-foot limit.

“If the line extends beyond 100 feet, we have candidates, campaigns standing right at the 100-foot zone just handing people information,” Ertel said.

“Elections take a lot of time. The 2016 election is already taking place. People are already starting to campaign for it. At some point the election has to end and I think it should be once the voter gets in line in order to cast their ballot.”

At the start of the meeting, Latvala told members of his committee and the county elections supervisors not to rehash the results of the 2012 election. Instead focus on what went right, what went wrong and to offer recommendations to improve the voting process, he said.

“We’re not here to place blame on the supervisors or legislators,” Latvala told members of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee. “There is enough blame to go around.”

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, agreed the focus of the panel needs to be simply addressing complaints, which have included the length of the ballot and limitations of site selection for early voting.

“We need to change the image Florida has nationwide and worldwide that we can’t get our elections done on time,” Sobel said.

Prior to the meeting, the League of Women Voters of Florida, which was behind the redistricting changes that voters approved in 2010, has released its recommendations for the 2013 legislative session as state lawmakers are undertaking their own reassessments of the 2012 election.

"Early voting restrictions, an outdated voter registration system and a lengthy ballot all coalesced to create excessive lines, delays in the counting of ballots and a significant number of disenfranchised voters in 2012,” League President Deirdre Macnab stated in a release.

Among the recommendations:

• For general elections and their primaries, provide a minimum of nine days for early voting, with an option to extend to 14 days. The early voting period should include at least two weekends and at least two weekdays with extended access of 12 hours or more

• Allow supervisors of elections the ability to select early voting sites in each county consistent with the procedure used to select Election Day polling sites.

• Restore the prior protocol that allowed voters to update their address at the polls on Election Day and still cast a regular ballot.

• Develop an online voter registration system to supplement the current, paper-based system. Online voter registration, currently used in 15 states, can significantly reduce costs for already strapped state and local governments and can reduce errors that occur from misinterpreting handwritten forms.

• Create a uniform and timely process for notifying voters if their absentee ballot has been accepted or rejected, and allow voters whose absentee ballots have been rejected a remedy for ensuring they are not unduly disenfranchised.

• Address mobility and safety concerns for voters who are disabled or elderly and provide an expedited process to allow them to vote without having to wait in line.

• In response to the 2012 ballot, which was loaded with lengthy, complex summaries of 11 constitutional amendments, require legislatively proposed constitutional amendments be held to the same standards for clarity and concision as citizens' initiatives, including limiting ballot summaries to 75 words or less. 

Besides the Senate committee’s review, Secretary of State Ken Detzner continues to work on his own review and recommendations for Gov. Rick Scott.

Detzner’s report is due by Feb. 1.

Meanwhile, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, has filed a bill, Senate Bill 176, that would allow county elections supervisors to provide up to 14 hours of daily early voting, up from 12 currently allowed, and to add the Sunday prior to the election to the early voting period. House Bill 25, by Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, would restore early voting from the eight days in place now to the 14 days that were in place before this year, including the Sunday before Election Day. The bill also would allow nongovernmental buildings to be used as early voting sites.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

Comments (1)

Frank
8:39PM JAN 14TH 2013
Latvala, at least, has a little sense of political reality - - "We’re not here to place blame on the supervisors or legislators" - - - because, if so, Republican legislators won't like the answer very much . . . the partisanship of 2011 and the obstructionism on Scott's part both before and during early November, 2012, will not be soon forgotten . . . . .

Just remember a little of what Senator Bennett had to say in support of the infamous 2011 voting legislation:

"This is a hard-fought privilege. This is something people die for. You want to make it convenient? The guy who died to give you that right, it was not convenient. Why would we make it any easier? I want 'em to fight for it. I want 'em to know what it's like. I want them to go down there, and have to walk across town to go over and vote."

Latvala is right - - - legislators DON'T want to have a discussion about who's to blame here, because if they do, it will clearly demonstrate Republican legislators promoting Florida's 2011 disenfranchisement and voter suppression legislation were knowingly, absolutely . . . .

Pathetic . . . .

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