It’s been ten days and the dust is still swirling from the November 6 election. Not enough scanners led to long lines, short tempers and polling places that didn’t process the last Lee County vote until well after 2am.
It is a testament to the value Americans place on their right to vote that people were willing to stand in line for hours after the polls closed so they could cast their ballot.
There were calls for the job of Elections Supervisor Sharon Harrington, as voters stewed in the long lines throughout the day. We all knew we were in the middle of another Florida election disaster as we watched people step out of line and leave without voting.
The end result was widespread disenfranchisement in Lee County, meaning a good number of people throughout the county were deprived of their right to vote, not by law, not by intimidation but by the conditions that had to be endured in order to vote.
Voting is a sacred right to Americans and people will stand in line for hours just to exercise that right.
Not everyone was able to endure the long lines. Voting is a right, one that should not require a marathon effort to be exercised.
Those with jobs do not get Election Day off, so they have to vote early, by mail or go to the polls before or after their shift.
We have a sizable elderly population in Lee County. Standing an hour is hard –three hours – an impossibility. The poll workers in my precinct were quick to offer assistance to those with an obvious handicap, ushering them to the front of the line. But what of those with invisible issues - the kind of problems that don’t require a cane or wheelchair?
Hindsight says anyone who can’t stand in line for hours should have voted early or by mail. Voting early also involved long lines. By the time it was clear that those lines were never going to get any shorter, it was too late to ask for a ballot by mail, many of which never arrived in voters’ mailboxes so most people opted for Election Day voting.
I was one of the lucky ones; I missed the rain and only stood in line for 3 hours.
It’s time to look at what this snafu cost us and what caused it.
What were the costs? I figure it cost us somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 Lee County voters who wanted to vote but could not. In 2008 there was a turnout of 85.27%. If we’d had that turnout in 2012, our actual voter count was 60,000 short. But let’s average the last three general elections prior to this year. That comes to 79.74% turnout. That gives us over 40,000 voters lost. Personally, I think there was more interest in 2012 than there was in 2008 so the number of lost voters is closer to 60K than 40K. And that is only in Lee County.
What caused this?
Harrington recognizes that one scanner was not enough in most precincts and also blames the long ballot, the loss of early voting days, the restrictions on where early voting may take place and the decrease in early and mail voting.
The long ballot can be laid at the feet of the Legislature that put 11 amendments, most with lengthy "summaries” on the ballot. If you or I want to put an amendment on the ballot, we would have to write a 75-word summary. The Legislature exempts itself from that restriction. One of the summaries of their amendments was over 600 words long.
Some in the Florida Legislature took a close look at the demographics of the 2008 election and began tinkering with our voting laws. Turns out early voting was favored by more Democrats than Republicans. Next thing we know, they passed a law shortening early voting from 14 days to 8. And a not so funny thing happened – voters of all parties were unable to vote early, which contributed to long lines and another Florida election disaster.
Florida law limits the locations that counties can use for early voting. That combined with the changes to the hours of early voting, led to only 5 early voting locations being open. And they were only open for 8 days, down from 14 in the last general election.
In 2008 67% of Lee County voters voted before Election Day. This year, only 36% did thanks to the long lines and the problems many voters had getting their ballots in time.
Harrington has issued an apology and vowed that this will never happen again, pledging to have 2-3 scanners in every precinct next election. With all the variables she had to deal with, it’s easy to see how, if they all went south, we’d end up with a nightmare at the polls. And they did. I suspect she has learned to plan for the highest turnout possible on Election Day. The rest of the issues that created our Election Day nightmare are in the hands of the Florida Legislature.
A coalition of voter-protection organizations has called for an Election Reform Task Force. Our governor promises to look at the issue carefully. Let’s see that he and our elected representatives in Tallahassee do that.
The right to vote is too important to play politics with it.
Florida has to fix its election dysfunction. Now.