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Elections Supervisors Offer Suggestions in Tallahassee

January 15, 2013 | WMFE - Elections supervisors from across the state testified before the State Senate Ethics and Elections Committee on Monday. Florida voters suffered through another election that was beset by long lines, long and nearly incomprehensible ballots followed by long delays in counting the votes. Lawmakers said they wanted to hear suggestions from the officials who run the state's election: the county supervisors and they got an earful.

 The committee heard testimony from nine elections supervisors from large and small counties throughout the state. Sharon Harrington is in charge of elections in Southwest Florida’s Lee County.

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

The committee also heard from elections officials from St. Lucie and Miami-Dade Counties.  

St. Lucie was the only county that didn’t return its results on time and some polling locations in Miami-Dade had such long lines that  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 and all were printed in full instead of the more concise summary that’s generally printed on the ballot.  The supervisors said that caused many counties to use multi-page ballots for the first time. Lee County’s Harrington said it was costly and challenging to print, mail and store the tons of paper.

“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.” Harrington said. “I cannot imagine what Miami 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, such as community centers or fairgrounds. They also want to be allowed to offer early voting on more days.

Those were concerns even in the counties that the committee held up as examples of efficiency. Jerry Holland, the election supervisor in Duval County, was asked to share why his county did so well, but he said he actually sees a lot of room for improvement.

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

Holland said Duval Count, home to Jacksonville, returned its results only minutes before the deadline and he said that’s much too close. He 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 before the election. Most said they thought it should be optional, but Palm Beach Election Supervisor Susan Bucher says, 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.”  Bucher said.

Another common theme among the supervisors is that the companies that provide printing and ballot-counting services should be held more accountable for mistakes and mechanical failures.

For example, 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.



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