If Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes had one word to summarize what she needs to reduce long voting lines in the future it would be “flexibility.”
That means flexibility in terms of early voting locations, days and hours.
That was the message Snipes delivered to Secretary of State Ken Detzner at a meeting on Wednesday at the county’s Voting Equipment Center in Lauderhill.
Broward used 17 early voting sites but “the space in all but three of those sites are inadequate...,” Snipes said. “We as supervisors of elections in large districts, knowing our districts, need to have the flexibility to make these adjustments.”
The meeting was part of Detzner’s five-county tour of counties that he said “underperformed” in the November election. Detzner visited Miami-Dade Tuesday. The other counties are Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Lee. He kicked off his tour in Hillsborough Monday as a benchmark county.
When asked what she thought about Detzner saying that Broward "underperformed," Snipes said: "I let him know that I didn’t appreciate that. It was wrong to put a label on an organization like that." She added that such a label can undermine voter confidence.
Detzner said that "Broward did a good job" and didn’t have the “excessive” lines that other places had. When asked why he had said Broward “underperformed,” Detzner said that was due to long early voting lines.
Early voting sites should be able to handle 400 to 500 voters per hour, Snipes staff said during the meeting, but the sites generally weren’t sufficient for such big crowds. During early voting, the average number who voted per hour ranged from 80 at Wilton Manors City Hall to 218 at the Southwest Regional Library in Pembroke Pines.
Noting the high volume, Detzner said “You can’t process enough people per hour, if you can’t you are going to have long lines.”
Detzner said that he has heard a consistent message from counties that they want flexibility in terms of early voting sites.
“People talk about one size doesn’t fit all,” he said.
Detzner asked Snipes about the number of days and hours she would like to see for early voting. Snipes said that she preferred the 14 days allowed before the Legislature passed H.B. 1355 in 2011 that limited it to eight days.
“I like the 14 days, and I like Sunday before the election,” Snipes said. She mentioned that African-American churches in the past organized “Souls to the Polls” to encourage church-goers to go to early voting after church on the Sunday before election day. But that day of early voting was eliminated by the Legislature. She also said some voters prefer that day simply because they “wait until the last minute.”
“When you have something and take it away it creates issues,” Snipes said. “My preference would be to have 14 days.”
But Snipes said if she had the full two weeks and more flexibility in terms of sites she could accommodate early voting in a 10-hour day rather than 12 hours. In reality, that still can mean longer than a 10-hour day because voters in line at closing time still get the opportunity to vote.
Another challenge was the lawsuit that resulted in voters being allowed to cast in-person absentee ballots on the Sunday before election day — an unexpected development that the county couldn’t plan for.