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Ken Detzner: Early Voting Flexibility will Help Restore Voter Confidence

February 3, 2013 - 6:00pm

Florida supervisors need more flexibility in the days and locations they can set up elections, highlights the message from Secretary of State Ken Detzner on a vast number of changes needed to improve voting in Florida.

Certain unnamed supervisors failed -- Detzner charged in his review of the 2012 contest -- to prepare effectively and it reflected poorly on the entire state.

One county or precinct that does not properly serve its voters does a disservice for the entire state and has the potential to cloud the positive steps taken by the rest of the state to conduct an accessible and efficient election, Detzner stated without making any recommendation on any officeholder.

Supervisors of elections and county commissions must take it upon themselves to oversee elections through responsible leadership and efficient administration.

In his anticipated 12-page report back to Gov. Rick Scott, Detzner noted that what can be easily handled by some smaller counties doesnt fit for larger counties such as Palm Beach or Miami-Dade.

Detzner also put part of the blame for the long lines and delayed results on the unusual length of the ballots, created by legislators putting 11 constitutional amendments before voters that were limited to the 75-word cap.

Among his recommended changes: allow mail ballots for certain special district elections; amend a number of the early voting limits imposed after the 2010 election; and cap the number of words legislators can use for their own constitutional amendments.

I can confidently say Florida conducted a fair election in 2012. But I am just as confident we can improve upon the election, because every election can be improved upon, Detzner stated in his report.

Technology changes, needs change, voter behavior changes and experience encourages more innovation. In 2013, Florida can make the right adjustments again because it is what Florida voters expect, need and deserve. Voter confidence must be restored.

The message echoes what supervisors have been telling legislators during recent hearings and closely follows the election reform proposals suggested by Scott, who noted Detzner still has work to do.

I have also asked Secretary Detzner to continue to work with those counties who need additional assistance or support to improve their systems, outside of statewide election law changes, Scott stated in a release.

Our goal is to ensure our election system is fair and accessible so every Floridian has the confidence that their vote counts. I am grateful for the detailed work of Secretary Detzner in forming these recommendations over the last few months, the supervisors of elections who gave him input, and all those who participated from every level of government. I look forward to working with the Legislature as we turn these three key recommendations into law over the weeks and months ahead.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, has appeared unconvinced that the Legislature should impose a word restriction upon itself, a rule that was created after the 2000 election.

Among Detzners recommendations:

-- Improve absentee balloting by allowing the first ballots to go out 35 to 45 days before an election for nonmilitary service voters, up from the current 28-to-35- day mark, with the deadline to request an absentee ballot also moved from six days before an election to 10 days prior.

-- Allow supervisors to begin running the absentee ballots through tabulators earlier, which can reduce Election Day tabulating and potentially flag technical or administrative issues.

-- Florida could see mail ballots for certain elections -- community development districts, fire control districts, soil and water conservation districts -- while amending a number of the early voting limits imposed after the 2010 election.

-- Give supervisors the flexibility to extend early voting up to 14 days from the eight-day limit imposed in 2011.

-- Allow supervisors to expand early voting locations to also use fairgrounds, stadiums, convention centers, county government facilities and civic centers.

-- A change is also suggested for in-person absentee balloting, which caused massive delays in several South Florida counties where people who wanted to vote early went to the supervisors office on the Monday prior to the election to vote with an absentee ballot.

-- Include additional alternates on county canvassing boards.

-- Allow the state to fine voting machines [suppliers] for nonperforming systems. The state currently only certifies equipment.

-- Allow signature updates to be made from paper precinct register/electronic poll books, early voting certificates and absentee ballot certificates (if counted). Current law only allows signature updates to be accepted from a completed application form. These signature updates would ensure more current signatures are on record.

-- Allow the absentee ballot of a voter who makes an address change after casting an absentee ballot to be counted in the county in which the absentee ballot was cast. Currently, a voter remains on the rolls for purposes of counting his or her absentee ballot if the voter dies on or before Election Day. The same consideration should be applied to voters who move after casting their ballot.

-- Revise the Florida Election Emergency Act, which has not been updated since it was enacted in 1992. During Hurricane Sandy, several Florida voters were either visiting or serving as first responders in the impact area and were unable to return home to vote. Additionally, the storm impacted major city hubs and could have delayed the delivery of absentee ballots if the mail had not been rerouted. Updates should be made to allow Floridians in such circumstances to vote.

-- Require paper voter registrations, including signatures to be scanned and entered within seven days of receipt in the office of any voter registration official. The current timeframe is 13 days. A shorter timeframe, however, would ensure more timely notice for voters who need to provide missing information in order to become a registered voter in time for an election.

-- Allow the official voter registration record to be the application image or information that is in the statewide voter registration system. This change would minimize the paper transfer of voter registration applications from one official to another as long as the image is properly scanned and recorded in the voter registration system.

-- The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, individual supervisors of elections and the Division of Elections should work closely to identify and promote best practices from around the state that are continually revised and communicated to election officials and their staff in routine trainings conducted online and in person. This effort should include new supervisors of elections to undergo a minimum number of hours of certified training and testing on the Election Code.

-- Supervisors of elections should strongly consider: purchasing certified voting equipment that reflects advances in technology; reviewing their precincts from the 2012 general election to determine whether the number used, their locations and any combining of precincts created longer than acceptable voting lines -- if so, supervisors of elections should reprecinct their voting locations; ensuring contracts with voting equipment vendors have sufficient safeguards within them to guarantee the warranty, maintenance and upgrading of the equipment to meet voter needs.

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, took the report as a positive step as Democrats fought against the 2011 election changes.

Florida needs more voting days, more polling locations, and for those voting sites to be properly staffed and properly equipped," Thurston stated in a release.

"There are many election system improvements needed to ensure that everyones vote is counted, whether the vote is cast on Election Day, by mail or through early voting."

Reach Jim Turner at or at (772) 215-9889.

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