1. Opinion

In election, Florida is state of embarrassment

Published Nov. 9, 2012

Floridians awoke Wednesday still not knowing which presidential candidate had won the Sunshine State, and that is unacceptable. Unlike the 2000 election where disparate voting technologies and razor-thin margins spawned an infamous recount, the long lines in some urban areas and the delay in vote counting are not defensible this time. This is the predictable aftermath of cynical efforts to suppress the vote and limit early voting by Gov. Rick Scott, the Legislature and the Republican Party of Florida. It should not be this hard to vote or count ballots, and the governor and state lawmakers should work on making voting easier and more accessible.

Headed into Tuesday, elections officials predicted voters would find far shorter lines than during the eight days of early voting, when 2.4 million people voted — down some 200,000 from those who voted during 14 early days in 2008. Yet aggressive absentee ballot drives by both political parties could result in this being the first election when the majority of Florida ballots were not cast at precincts on Election Day.

But as President Barack Obama took the stage in Chicago early Wednesday morning, voters in some Miami-Dade precincts were still casting ballots. And nine large counties, including Pinellas and Hillsborough, announced they wouldn't even process thousands of absentee ballots until Wednesday. Even Obama, after thanking all voters for participating in the election, including standing in long lines, quipped, "By the way, we have to fix that."

But Florida doesn't need a Washington fix. It needs one from Tallahassee. Legislative leaders and Scott spent two years passing laws that make it harder for citizens to register to vote and then further limited their access to the ballot box. There were record-long ballots — 10 pages in Miami-Dade County — that fatigued voters and overwhelmed counting machines. Scott also pushed a flawed voter roll purge that ultimately was halted by the county supervisors of elections and the Justice Department.

Those systemic efforts came on top of other gaffes that further undermine voter confidence: a Palm Beach absentee ballot that failed to properly display races; an errant robocall sent on behalf of Pinellas Election Supervisor Deborah Clark telling voters that Election Day was Wednesday; a University of South Florida professor who was improperly removed from Hillsborough's voter rolls because someone in Orange County had his same name; and the felon with restored civil rights who found he had been mistakenly removed from the rolls years ago in an earlier voter purge.

Voting and vote counting should not be this hard, and once again Florida looks ridiculous in the eyes of the nation. Imagine if the outcome of the presidential election was still awaiting the results here. The governor, the Legislature and the elections supervisors need to thoroughly review the voting system and make some changes — starting with increasing the number of days for early voting.