Florida must ensure a safe and secure election | Editorial
Lessons from Super Tuesday debacles should make Florida resolve to get its own election day right.
People wait in line to vote Tuesday at Texas Southern University in Houston. (Jon Shapley/Houston Chronicle via AP)
People wait in line to vote Tuesday at Texas Southern University in Houston. (Jon Shapley/Houston Chronicle via AP) [ JON SHAPLEY | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Mar. 5, 2020

Glitches in a balky, new electronic voting system in California causing lines, delays and frustrations. A flood of millions of late mail-in ballots postponing the final California count for days or maybe weeks. Record waves of Virginians overwhelming polling places in a turnout never before seen in a presidential primary. Long, snaking lines in Texas that forced one site to stay open until 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, with the last voter waiting more than six hours. And reports of hackers probing election systems. These worrisome vignettes from the 14 states that voted in Super Tuesday should alert Florida officials, county supervisors of elections and voters themselves to be fully prepared for the March 17 presidential primary -- and for the general election in November. We’ve been warned, so let’s be ready.

The Democratic contest between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders is far from over, and Florida is the largest state that hasn’t already voted, so Florida Democrats’ voices really matter. It’s important that they be heard and that everyone has trust in the system. Voting is a solemn duty, but there should be no barriers to making it as seamless as possible, and turnout will be large both this month and in November.

Early voting is already under way. As of Thursday, 943,776 Floridians had mailed in their ballots, and another 57,250 had voted early. But that leaves 1,193,943 ballots that have been mailed out and not yet returned. And 13,701,765 Floridians are registered to vote. Those are big numbers.

Hillsborough County has 23 early voting sites open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from now through March 15. Pinellas has only three sites, but it emphasizes voting by mail and uses a signature-checking system that is unlikely to reject legitimate ballots even if signatures don’t match perfectly. Those who vote early can do so at any location, but those who wait until election day must vote at their precinct. Voters can avoid lines by either voting early or by mail. They should study a sample ballot ahead of time, and if they do vote in person, have an acceptable photo ID.

Starting with Gov. Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Florida’s top officials should tell the public exactly how they are planning for a smooth and secure primary election this month -- and a smooth general election in November. Don’t forget how little Floridians know even now about the Russian attempts in 2016 to target voting systems in two unnamed Florida counties. Openness, not secrecy, will build confidence.

Supervisors of elections should be fully staffed up for a large turnout, and the governor should be ready to make a quick decision to extend voting hours if needed. All systems should be tested and tested again. Think about anything that could go wrong, and plan for contingencies in case it does.

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Since 2000, Floridians have been through enough debacles, razor-thin elections and voting systems -- punch cards, touchscreen voting and, now, fill in the bubble -- to be wary, but also to be prepared. There is nothing more precious than the vote. After seeing everything that went wrong in other states on Super Tuesday, Florida’s officials and voters should be ready to take whatever precautions are necessary to make sure each vote is easy to cast and is counted.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news


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