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Fla. Elections Officials: Expand Early Voting Sites And Days; Shorten Ballot

Election supervisors from several Florida counties are turning in their wish lists for how the state’s election law needs to change. The Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections heard  from the county officials Monday about what they think caused problems during the 2012 election.

The committee heard testimony from nine elections supervisors, including those from several of the biggest counties.

Lee County Election Supervisor Sharon Harrington said, “All too often, when situations like these arise, those of on the ground or in the trenches are overlooked as sources for workable solutions, so, again, thank you for the opportunity of allowing us to give you some ideas on solutions.”

The committee also heard from officials from St. Lucie, the only county that didn’t return its results on time, and Miami-Dade, where some precincts didn’t close until the early morning hours the day after the election.

Escambia County Election Supervisor David Stafford echoed a common theme:

“The length of the ballot increased the cost and complexity of the election and was, quite frankly, a source of complaints that we as supervisors received from a number of voters from across the state,” Stafford said.

The 2012 ballot contained 12 amendments, which caused many counties to use multi-page ballots for the first time. Harrington, from Lee County, said, it was costly and challenging to print, mail and store the tons of paper.

She said, “Lee County ran out of space in our confined area that is secured to keep those ballots safe until the final certification of an election. I cannot imagine what Miami-Dade and Palm Beach and Broward had to go through.”

Most of the supervisors also asked to be allowed to use more types of early voting sites, and to be allowed to offer early voting on more days. And those were concerns even in the counties that the committee held up as examples of efficiency.

Jerry Holland, the election supervisor in Duval County, said, “Even though we had more early voting sites per capita than any other county, we still had two-hour-long lines at early voting. Starting a few days earlier would have been helpful.”

He was asked to share why his county did so well, but he said he actually sees a lot of room for improvement. He said Duval returned its results only minutes before the deadline, and that’s much too close. Holland also requested the legislature require electronic poll books instead of the paper records kept at polling locations now.

The committee asked all the supervisors whether they support reinstating early voting on the Sunday right before the election. Most said they thought it should be optional, but Palm Beach Election Supervisor Susan Bucher said, she thinks that day should be required in all counties because minority voters traditionally vote on that day in such high numbers.

“I think we’re disenfranchising a particular community by not allowing them to vote early on that Sunday,” she said.

And another common theme among the supervisors is that companies providing printing and ballot-counting services should be held more accountable for mistakes and mechanical failures. For example, in St. Lucie County, supervisor Gertrude Walker blamed the late returns on memory card failure.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will continue taking testimony over the next couple of months before submitting its recommendations to the full legislature.