Many Agree Fla Elections Needs Change, But Can’t Agree On How To Do It

Nov 16, 2012

Between long lines at several Florida polling locations, delayed ballot counts, and late results, Florida has been called “embarrassing” and has become the butt of many election jokes. The Governor and state election officials are now looking into what could be done to improve the state’s elections process, but some say that’s not enough.

In the week following the election, there’s been a lot of talk about election reform in Florida. Some Floridians had to wait hours before getting a chance to vote and a few counties did not report their ballot results right away. Some blame the Governor for his refusal to extend early voting days. Others are criticizing the Republican-led Legislature for passing a law last year that critics called “the voter suppression act.” And, there are those who are pointing the finger at several local county elections supervisors.

There’s a lot of blame going around, but one thing most parties can agree on is Florida’s current election process needs some improvement.

“I think your state government ought to be doing the exact same thing that businesses have to do, and whenever you finish a project, in this case, an election, let’s go back and look," said Governor Rick Scott. "What went right? Constantly look at how can we improve things for you the citizens of this state? How can we make sure we do this cost effectively?”

The Governor has already charged Florida Department of State Secretary Ken Detzner to meet with county elections supervisors to get feedback and ideas. They recently had their first meeting. And, Ron Labasky with the Florida State Association of Supervisors says their next meeting is slated for December, with both Detzner and the county supervisors doing some fact-finding.

“Rather than proceeding on assumptions to what may have happened and what may have contributed to some of the issues that have been cited, particularly by the press, that we know exactly what may have transpired in these counties that had issues and what we would see maybe that would be comparable in other counties that mitigated those instances of lines or people having to wait several hours to vote,” said Labasky.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups, like the League of Women Voters, say the Governor as well as the state’s elected leaders should go further by setting up a bi-partisan Election Reform Task Force. The League’s President Deirdre Macnab points to what happened in the 2000 presidential election, when problems in Florida’s election process surfaced.

“Year 2000, another election fiasco," exclaimed Macnab. "Then, Governor Jeb Bush formed a task force, just like the one we’re calling for, by bi-partisan trusted leaders. And, almost all the recommendations made by that task force were implemented either during his tenure or Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who followed him. We saw the institution of early voting for the first time. We saw new machinery that was reliable. So, we’ve made really very critical steps forward.”

“The truth of the matter is we don’t need any more other task forces. We done task forced and study grouped this issue to death. What we need is action,” said Democratic Representative Darryl Rouson.

The Democrat says the sort of action that should be taken is trying to actively reverse the changes of what he calls a “bad elections bill.” He says the state’s current elections law is what contributed to Florida’s election troubles.

And, to move the state forward, he says he filed a comprehensive election reform bill. It includes returning the number early voting days back to 14 and increasing the number of early voting sites.

“October 17th of this year, I filed a bill, because I had heard from the constituents," said Rouson. "I’d heard from the grassroots organizations, the get-out-the-vote movements, that we were going to have problems when this election rolled around. So, my bill is designed to take us back to solutions.”

Rouson says he’s had both Democrats and Republicans reach out to him, and he’s also been talking to Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, who he says shares his outrage at what happened.

And, Weatherford says this year, he’s bringing back the Committee on Ethics and Elections Committee. He says he hopes, with the public’s help along with input from elected state and local officials, the group can find out why this happened and what more the Legislature needs to do.

“It’s not a good thing when it’s Friday, three days after the election, and every state in the country is either red or blue, and there’s one of them that’s yellow because they haven’t counted the votes yet and decided where the 29 electoral votes are going," said Weatherford.

"I think that should be something that we’re embarrassed by and something that we should make sure going forward does not happen again. But, I think what you’ll see is through that Ethics and Elections Committee, us look for ways to solve that problem and make sure that we don’t find ourselves in that situation again.”

And, if it’s found that last year’s election law is to blame for the state’s current election problems, the House Speaker Designate has some thoughts on that.

“Certainly if it contributed to any challenges in the election’s process, we should admit that. I don’t think we have the facts to determine if that was the case,” said Weatherford.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.