Election Problems Bring Calls for Investigative Panels and New Laws
November 15, 2012 | WMFE - Governor Rick Scott has asked Florida Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner, the state's top elections official, to investigate the long lines and long delays in ballot-counting in this year's election.
Scott says Secretary Detzner began meeting with county supervisors this week to discuss ways to improve the state’s elections process.
But some say, given the serious problems around the state and the probability that some voters were disenfranchised, much more needs to be done.
Some voters reportedly waited in line for eight hours or more on Election Day, in some cases voting in the early morning hours of the next day.
Some counties had problems tallying the votes and delayed releasing full results for several days.
Daniel Smith is a professor at the University of Florida and an expert on elections. He says Florida's new voting law, which cut early voting days from 14 to 8 days, limited voter participation especially among minorities.
Smith says he had warned legislators that last year's voting law would disproportionately affect minority voters, who use early voting
"In 2012, we saw a decrease in the composition of African Americans who turned out early largely because the long lines were in the communities in which those early voting centers were placed," Smith says. "There was not enough capacity to move them through."
Smith says the percentage of registered voters that turned out to vote early on each day of early voting almost doubled from 2008 to 2012. However, the numbers overall were down. That means more people were packed into the shorter schedule leading to long lines and making the jobs of election officials harder.
"You increase the pressure on the supervisor to be able to get people through the polls," Smith says.
During the shortened early voting period, state Democrats and non-partisan voter rights groups reported long delays and said they feared that some voters would be disenfranchised. They asked Governor Scott to extend the early vote period but he refused to do so and later defended his decision.
State Representative Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, says he's working on a bill for the upcoming legislative session that change the early voting period back to 14 days.
"It's a shame that the governor has said that we did the right thing. We did not do the right thing.” Rouson said. “We need to go back to pre-2011 and create the opportunities for people to exercise the most basic democratic right."
Other officials say a bi-partisan task force should be convened immediately to look into Florida’s election problems.
Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio also served for more than a decade as Hillsborough County’s Supervisor of Elections.
“I really think it would be a good idea for the governor to go forward with a bi-partisan task force to really look at the problems and solicit public input.” Iorio said. “I think there’s a whole coalition of Republicans and Democrats and Independents who would want to give testimony to this commission.”
Governor Scott has not commented on the proposal for a task force but says he will urge lawmakers to review the new election laws passed in 2011 to determine if any changes are needed.