Florida election officials told a presidential commission Friday that a reduction in early voting hours, a limited number of polling sites and a lengthy ballot led to the long lines and counting delays last November that again put the Sunshine State under national scrutiny. Gathered at the University of Miami, Florida’s secretary of state and a panel of a half-dozen county election supervisors spent hours performing a post-mortem of last year’s election before a bipartisan commission charged by President Barack Obama with improving the country’s electoral process. The day-long hearing was the first of four such events in battleground states. Miami was ground zero for Florida’s voting problems: Some voters waited between five and eight hours to cast ballots.
On Friday, state election officials said problems were concentrated in a handful of urban counties, blaming a 2011 law that cut the early-voting window from 14 to eight days and no longer allowed voting on the Sunday before the election, a day when many black churches organize “souls to the polls” voter drives.
The restrictions, officials said, led to a surge in absentee and election-day voting, overwhelming some local election supervisors. In Miami-Dade County alone, voters hand-delivered some 56,000 absentee ballots in the final two days of the election, which delayed vote counting.
Supervisors said the problem was compounded by a bloated ballot jammed with 11 long questions by the Republican-dominated Legislature and designed to drive conservative voters to the polls. Penelope Townsley, supervisor of elections for Miami-Dade County, gave the commission copies of her county’s 12-page ballot, eliciting visible shock from some members.
One county official recounted watching some voters take 45 minutes to an hour to read the entire ballot, contributing to long lines and delayed processing.
“Even if it’s only a few precincts, there’s no reason why Floridians should have to wait in line for hours to vote,” said Ken Detzner, Florida’s secretary of state.