Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Politics

Five things that could go wrong on Election Day in Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Balloting mishaps, confusion and alleged voter fraud won't mean much in the post-election analysis if Tuesday's presidential election isn't close and Florida doesn't matter.

But with polls indicating a tight race between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the slightest glitch — be it a jammed optical scanner in North Miami or a spike in provisional ballots in Gainesville — could be memorialized as this campaign's hanging chad.

"In close races, an entire state's elections process goes under the microscope," said Ed Foley, an Ohio State University law professor and elections expert. "With that type of scrutiny, things always turn up."

Here are five issues that could grab the national spotlight by the time official results are certified.

1 Long ballots. There are 11 constitutional amendments on this year's ballot, making it the longest in Florida history.

"Either it happened that way by accident, or it was an ingenious strategy to clog up the polling places," said Monica Russo, president of the SEIU Florida State Council, the governing arm of the labor union. "In the early voting so far, they are the cause for the long lines."

In Miami-Dade, early voting wait times in some precincts stretched from four to six hours.

"It's taking voters a very long time to read it," said Judith Brown Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a Washington, D.C., civil rights nonprofit founded in 1999. "Some voters are taking as long as an hour to fill it out."

Longer ballots mean more paper that needs to be fed through scanning machines, increasing the odds of jams — and longer delays.

2 Provisional ballots. Four years ago, 30,000 Florida residents voted regularly despite not informing elections officials that they had moved until they arrived at the polls. As long as a clerk could confirm their registered status — and that they had not already voted in their former precinct — they could vote like everyone else.

But a 2011 elections law forces Florida voters who move outside their county without updating their registration by Election Day to vote by provisional ballot. These voters then have to verify residency by 5 p.m. Thursday — or lose their vote.

College students are particularly at risk.

"We could have a scenario where we have tens of thousands of provisional ballots because of this new requirement," said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters. "Think about the number of students at our community colleges and universities who will encounter this, and the delays this will cause at the polls."

About half of all provisional ballots were rejected in 2008, mainly because voters didn't bother coming back to verify their status, said Daniel A. Smith, a University of Florida political science professor.

"It's a form of double jeopardy," Smith said.

3 Absentee ballots. In Florida and across the nation, more people than ever are voting by mail ballot.

Yet these ballots average a rejection rate double that of voting in person.

"Absentee ballots are the next ticking time bomb," said Nate Persily, a political science professor at Columbia University. "It's unreliable because it has more opportunities for error. A ballot has to be requested, received, filled out properly, mailed back in time, then it must be counted in time. At each stage, there's the potential for something to go wrong."

In Palm Beach County, elections officials made an error in bar codes that ensure the ballots reach their destination, delaying the arrival of dozens of ballots for voters who requested them. They made another error in the design of more than 20,000 absentee ballots — requiring elections officials to copy results onto new ballots.

Early absentee ballot rejection rates in Hillsborough County may seem small — 0.39 percent — but that represents 526 ballots through Friday. In Pinellas County, the rejection rate is 0.18 percent, or 336 ballots. Add that across the state and the number of discounted votes could add up.

The Republican-controlled Legislature has eased restrictions on absentee voting since 2000, a puzzling move for elections experts because this type of voting is more susceptible to tampering.

"Absentee ballots are where you find the fraud," Persily said. "It doesn't happen in person."

4 Challenges. Groups like True the Vote and Tampa Fair Vote will have poll watchers ready to stop anyone they suspect as ineligible to vote. Florida law requires those challenged to vote by provisional ballot. (See No. 2.)

This effort taps into a conviction among Republicans that it's too easy to rig the vote at the polls by impersonating other people or voting twice.

Jamie Miller, a veteran Republican strategist, said he thinks as many as 10,000 votes cast in person are fraudulent and he doesn't trust official numbers that say such fraud is nearly nonexistent.

"Any county you go to, the supervisor will say there's no fraud," Miller said. "But they're the most biased because to admit fraud would be their failing. At some level, there's fraud. How much exists? I don't know."

Miller said having poll watchers look for fraud is the best deterrent against it. But no one knows just how many challenges are to come.

"They could be really disruptive," said Foley. "There's a genuine risk of overzealousness, and that could create real problems."

In Florida, it's relatively easy to challenge someone.

"It's only a misdemeanor to falsely accuse someone," Smith said. "Meanwhile, it gives poll workers something else to deal with. They already have enough on their hands."

5 Confusion. Every 10 years, many voters get assigned a new precinct because of redistricting. This is one of those years.

In Pinellas County, for example, about 20 percent of the 626,000 registered voters have new polling locations, said Nancy Whitlock, a spokeswoman for Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark. All registered voters were sent new information cards in June and July detailing their new precincts. If voters go to their old precincts, they can fill out a form that allows them to cut in line so they don't have to wait at their correct polling location, Whitlock said.

But some doubt the publicity has sunk in.

"I don't think people are aware of this," said Macnab. "We won't know until the polls open."

Contact Michael Van Sickler at (850) 224-7263 or [email protected]

Comments
FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says heís willing to testify before Congress

FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says heís willing to testify before Congress

The FBI agent who was removed from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election for sending anti-Trump texts intends to testify before the House Judiciary Committee and any other congressional committee that asks, his attorney sai...
Published: 06/17/18
Erosion of immigrant protections began with Trump inaugural

Erosion of immigrant protections began with Trump inaugural

The Trump administrationís move to separate immigrant parents from their children on the U.S.-Mexico border has grabbed attention around the world, drawn scorn from human-rights organizations and overtaken the immigration debate in Congress.Itís also...
Published: 06/17/18

Pasco Political Notebook

Perenich to ĎWalk the DistrictíStephen Perenich, Democratic candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, Florida District 12, will be "Walking the District" June 25-29. Perenich will be walking 55 miles in five days, starting in Dade City and heading...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/18/18
GOP lawmakers decry family separations as WH defends policy

GOP lawmakers decry family separations as WH defends policy

WASHINGTON ó Congressional Republicans distanced themselves Thursday from the Trump administrationís aggressive policy of separating children from their parents at the southern border even as the White House cited the Bible in defending its "zero tol...
Published: 06/14/18
Sarah Sanders and  Raj Shah are planning to step down, per CBS report

Sarah Sanders and Raj Shah are planning to step down, per CBS report

Press secretary Sarah Sanders and principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah are considering stepping down, according to a CBS report. Sanders promptly responded in a Tweet saying, "I love my job and am honored to work for @POTUS." Does @CBSNews k...
Published: 06/13/18
Updated: 06/14/18
Fed raises key rate and sees possible acceleration in hikes

Fed raises key rate and sees possible acceleration in hikes

WASHINGTON ó The Federal Reserve has raised its benchmark interest rate for the second time this year and signaled that it may step up its pace of rate increases because of solid economic growth and rising inflation. The Fed now foresees four rate hi...
Published: 06/13/18
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister hits $1 million mark in first bid for election

Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister hits $1 million mark in first bid for election

TAMPA ó Law enforcement officers never want to be outgunned. Neither do political candidates.Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister need not worry.The Republican candidate has amassed what appears to be a record-sized war chest of just more than $1 mil...
Published: 06/12/18
Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

So the Supreme Court is in favor of voter suppression.Or is it election integrity?I suppose your interpretation depends on your party affiliation.Liberals seem convinced that an Ohio voting law upheld by the Supreme Court on Monday is a devious plot ...
Published: 06/12/18
Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

So the Supreme Court is in favor of voter suppression.Or is it election integrity?I suppose your interpretation depends on your party affiliation.Liberals seem convinced that an Ohio voting law upheld by the Supreme Court on Monday is a devious plot ...
Published: 06/12/18
Trumpís tougher Cuba policy having little impact on Tampa area

Trumpís tougher Cuba policy having little impact on Tampa area

TAMPA ó June 16 will mark a year since President Trump announced a tougher Cuba travel policy, but unlike in much of the nation, the changes donít seem to have hurt local bookings to the island.The number of people traveling between Tampa and Havana ...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/13/18