By Scott Powers
Florida had the worst voter lines in the country in 2012, and a lack of resources at some precincts contributed to those long waits to vote, studies from the U.S. General Accounting Office and a New York think tank revealed.
The GAO study surveyed elections officials across the country and found the average wait in Florida, nearly 35 minutes, was the worst, followed by Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina, where voters averaged waiting less than 30 minutes to vote.
This year, Florida election officials say there is no reason for voters to worry. The Nov. 4 elections led by governors' races do not draw nearly as many voters as presidential elections, and last year the Florida Legislature approved several reforms intended to cut back line issues. No one expects long lines.
"The 2014 elections should be compared to the 2010 elections, which is off-year to off-year," said Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles. "In 2010 in the general election we only had a 44 percent [voter] turnout. No lines."
Another report, from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, studied Florida, South Carolina and Maryland and found that the precincts that had the longest wait times also averaged fewer poll workers and vote-counting machines per voter.
That report, which draws on and cites research conducted and published by the Orlando Sentinel in the winter of 2012-13, also draws a link to districts with high percentages of minority voters. Brennan found such districts tended to have longer lines than other districts, and they also tended to have fewer poll workers and vote-counting machines per voter.
The Brennan Center report also noted that Florida has no standards to determine how many poll workers and vote machines should be assigned to any polling places, while the other two states, South Carolina and Maryland, do have such standards.
When precincts were compared within a county, those precincts that had higher percentages of black or Hispanic voters tended to also have higher numbers of eligible voters for each vote counting machine and for each poll worker at the precinct.
"Specifically, in Miami-Dade, Orange, Hillsborough and Broward Counties, precincts with large numbers of Latino registered voters received fewer Election Day resources," the report stated.
The GAO study also cited lack of polling-place resources as one reason for long lines in some places. It also cited several other factors, some of which Florida state officials pointed to in 2013 to explain the 2012 lines. They included a limited number of early voting days [the number was reduced in Florida for 2012, and since increased for 2014], the methods poll workers used to determine voter eligibility, and ballot characteristics. Florida officials in 2013 said the very long 2012 general election ballot was part of the problem, as was a sometimes-cumbersome process to check addresses on voters who had moved.
"The Florida Legislature came in in 2013 and undid many of the issues," Cowles said.
Both studies were released in the past two weeks.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson touted the studies in a press release, saying that they support a bill he co-sponsored last year to limit voter lines to 30 minutes nationally. That bill, dubbed the LINE Act, is currently pending in the Senate Rules Committee.
"People should not have to stand in line for hours to exercise their constitutional right to vote," Nelson stated in that release.
(c)2014 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)