Iorio right leader on vote reform

Published Nov. 9, 2012

More than 72 hours after the polls closed, Florida still does not have complete election results for president. The debacle harkens back to the 2000 election when the state became the symbol for election incompetence — and this race is not that close and probably will not require a recount. Now the challenge is to make changes to state law to ensure that voters can cast ballots more easily and conveniently. There is no better person to lead this effort than Pam Iorio. The former three-term supervisor of elections in Hillsborough County is already pulling people together for a statewide review of elections on her own initiative. Gov. Rick Scott should welcome Iorio's involvement and formalize her task force.

Some of the most glaring problems are already evident. Long lines during early voting and on Election Day meant voters stood for up to seven hours in some precincts to cast ballots. The problems were a direct consequence of the Republican-led effort in the Legislature to reduce early voting days from a possible 14 to eight while loading the ballot with 11 densely worded constitutional amendments. The high turnout in some precincts combined with long ballots led to chaos on Election Day, with people in South Florida standing in line to vote past 1 a.m., well after the networks had pronounced President Barack Obama the winner.

Iorio is right when she says "it is time for a bipartisan solution" to Florida's election problems. She is uniquely qualified to lead this effort as a past president of the State Association of Supervisors of Elections and a former Democratic mayor of Tampa whose no-nonsense approach to good government made her popular across party lines. She has already mentioned some essential changes that the Legislature should adopt, including: standardized early voting days, hours and procedures; more early voting days; and an expansion of the locations for early voting beyond government buildings and libraries.

Iorio notes that there were 15 early voting sites in Hillsborough County while there were only three in Pinellas County. Deborah Clark, the supervisor of elections in Pinellas County, has an inexcusable track record of limiting the number of early voting sites and pushing more people to vote by mail. Yet it was the pile of last-minute absentee ballots across the state that delayed election results for days.

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has his own warped take on the Florida elections mess. He claims the 2011 legislation he supported, which contracted early voting, did not lead to voter suppression because this year a higher percentage of voters cast a ballot before Election Day than in 2008. In fact, early voting dropped this year 9.4 percent statewide due to the shortened schedule, and absentee voting was up. With fewer days, early voting was turned into a nightmare exercise in some places, with hours-long lines. Gaetz wants an apology, but he is the one who should apologize to Floridians.

Iorio's task force should include people such as Republican Kurt Browning, a former secretary of state under Scott and a supervisor of elections in Pasco County for 26 years. This is an issue that transcends politics and ideology, and instead of suppressing the vote the governor and the Legislature should be making it easier to participate in democracy.