Here we go again. Even before Election Day dawned, Florida was making national news for a voting fiasco that was both foreseeable and preventable. Déjà vu all over again.
It was evident as the 7 p.m. Tuesday closing neared that voting would go on well past the official deadline because too many would be in line waiting to vote. And that’s happening even though some 4.4 million people managed to vote early or absentee.
Many who wanted to vote early somehow were discouraged. The confusion and interminable delays over the weekend regarding early voting and absentee voting gave the state another bad mark.
When it comes to early voting, as well as on Election Day, easy access should be the rule. This year, the rules were stacked against voters by a series of decisions made in Tallahassee and, in some instances, by certain counties that effectively restricted access for voters and led to complaints about disenfranchisement and uneven treatment. That does not bode well for the coming days if the outcome in Florida once again comes down to a relative handful of votes.
Gov. Rick Scott has come in for well-deserved criticism in this mess. By advocating a shorter early-voting schedule, eight days instead of the previous 14, the governor and his election team ensured a logjam of people in some urban-county precincts.
Adding to the long waits was a ballot stuffed with 11 amendments, some of them so incomprehensible they might as well have been written in Sanskrit.
The governor compounded the mistake by failing to agree to extend the early-voting period through Sunday, as both GOP predecessors Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush had done in other years when faced with the evident necessity. The resulting delays at some polling places were scandalous. At one precinct in Lake Worth in Palm Beach County, some voters still in line at 7 p.m. had to wait until 2:30 a.m. on Sunday to vote.
In Broward, complaints surfaced from voters who asked for absentee ballots weeks before the deadline yet failed to get them. That added obvious pressure to the demand for early voting at some precincts.
And if all this were not bad enough, another problem popped up over the weekend that drew the nation’s attention. This is the so-called absentee-voting-in-person option, which allows voters to go to election headquarters — or another designated location — to pick up an absentee ballot, fill it out on the spot and return it right away.
The Democratic Party filed suit to keep election offices open, including on Sunday, to respond to voter demand. The key settlement was with Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes, who agreed to offer in-person absentee voting from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at a Lauderhill satellite.
It should not have come to that. It was also reported that the elections department in Broward was allowing de facto absentee voting on Sunday, but most voters didn’t know it because the option was not publicized. In Miami-Dade, an apparent communications snafu with his own staff caused Mayor Carlos Gimenez to close absentee voting in person on Sunday after it was under way. A hasty reversal followed after angry prospective voters demanded to vote.
From now on, easy access to the ballot should be the governing principle for elected officials and voting supervisors. Avoid problems. Get more machines. No more long lines. No more interminable delays. No more cries of unfairness and disenfranchisement. No more Flori-duh.