The 2012 general election was marred by long lines and voter confusion in many Florida counties. On Tuesday, the Legislature’s Ethics and Elections Committees started considering how to improve the voting experience for all Floridians.
The Ethics and Elections Committees were appointed this year after Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford said reform in those areas was a priority. Vice Chair of the Senate committee, Hollywood Democrat Eleanor Sobel, said, committee members really care about making sure every vote gets counted.
"So that’s our charge: to make sure that the votes are counted and they’re counted on time and everyone has the right to vote," she said.
Sec. of State Ken Detzner testified, he’s planning to interview election supervisors in the five counties that had the most problems on Election Day. They are Lee, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and St. Lucie. He says, he’ll be examining whether the problems resulted from state policies or from the supervisors themselves.
“You can have the best laws in America, but if you don’t have the appropriate administration and the foresight to plan and use good judgment, the laws don’t do you any good," he said.
But, overall, Detzner said, he’s happy with the state’s performance. He pointed out, a record number of people voted before Election Day, either absentee or in person, but only one county, St. Lucie, did not count its ballots by the deadline. And, compared with other states, he said, "Florida has good election laws. We have high standards for voting here in Florida. Keep in mind, almost half of the other states don’t even allow early voting.”
According to the Florida State Department, this time around, the number of people who voted early increased by more than 93,000 since 2008. Detzner said, the No. 1 factor causing long lines was the length of the ballot.
Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman, Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), pointed out, this year’s ballot had 11 constitutional amendments, while ballots from the previous five elections, had a combined total of 17 amendments.
And if you ask elections supervisors what they see as the No. 1 problem?
Ron Labasky, with the state Association of Election Supervisors, testified: “For a number of years, we have come to the Legislature and asked for flexibility with respect to early voting sites.”
He said, places other than libraries, city halls and supervisor’s offices should be allowed to be used as early voting sites. State department data shows per capita, Duval county had the most early voting sites open, while Pinellas had the fewest. And in Miami-Dade, where some of the longest lines were reported, the supervisor opened only 20 of about 85 potential early voting sites.
Orlando Republican Sen. Andy Gardiner said, although each election supervisor is independently elected, maybe the state needs to have more recourse when things go wrong.
“I’m all for independence and local control," he said. "But I hope at some point your office and this committee will look at, at what point is there an intervention? If it becomes so apparent that a county has not made the appropriate decisions, or the ballots were sent out wrong?"
The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee is asking election supervisors in the five underperforming counties to testify next month. And Sec. Detzner plans to report his findings to Gov. Scott in January as well.