Florida is again having problems determining the winner of its presidential vote. But its difficulties are entirely different from the ones that kept the nation in suspense for more than a month back in 2000. “It was just a convergence of things that were an embarrassment to Florida,” says Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Some of the snafus stem from changes in election law that were passed last year — but which were the subject of lawsuits until just weeks before the election. “We’d been in court for months,” MacManus says.
From there the problems cascaded down on Florida, with its immense and highly diverse voting population, to the point that some voters didn’t cast their ballots until 1 a.m. Polls had officially closed at 7, but those who were in line at the time were allowed to stay and vote.
The legal fights over early voting in particular made it difficult for local election officials to plan properly for heavy turnout. The number of early voting hours stayed constant at 96, but the number of days on which early voting could be held was reduced to eight.
Longer voting days meant paying overtime to poll workers, so some counties opened up fewer locations, which resulted in long lines.
“Souls to the polls” turnout efforts, which involve African-American churches busing parishioners to cast ballots on the Sunday before Election Day, had to be curtailed as early voting was no longer available on that day.
In response to such changes, Democrats encouraged supporters to take advantage of in-person absentee voting. Voters could show up at election offices as late as Monday to ask for an absentee ballot, which they would fill out on the spot.
“The Obama team shifted to get people to do in-person absentee ballots, which take a lot longer to process than early voting,” says Daniel Smith, a political scientist at the University of Florida. “You have to open and verify and process the ballot, rather than immediately scanning it.”