Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner got an earful last week during his rounds of local election officials’ offices, as well he should have. Mr. Detzner is Florida’s top election official. He didn’t bring about the circumstances that created this state’s voting problems, but he is in a position to tell those who did what should be done so that Florida is never “Flori-duh” again in presidential elections.
That would be the Republican-led Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott, who joined forces in 2011 to shorten the number of early voting days to eight from 14 and banned voting on the Sunday before the election. Lawmakers also put more burdens on organizations that register voters.
Then, the Legislature tacked 11 proposed constitutional amendments to the ballot, using convoluted language that made it longer and added to the long polling lines as individual voters struggled to make sense of them.
Florida’s GOP leaders claimed the changes were to prevent fraud at the polls. How cutting back on early-voting days would prevent fraud is a mystery. The more likely intent was to stymie minority voters, who tend to vote Democratic and in large numbers on the Sunday before the election.
Nevertheless, voters defied the obstacles. They reelected President Obama, returned Democrat Bill Nelson to the Senate and rejected all but three of the Legislature’s proposed amendments.
But many also endured long hours waiting in line — whether in early voting or on Election Day.
So one constant that Mr. Detzner heard last week was that the Legislature should again extend early voting to 14 days, including the Sunday before the general election. Mr. Detzner was dispatched by Gov. Scott to visit “problematic” counties that experienced long voting lines or other difficulties in early voting or on Nov. 6. He traveled to Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties. Everywhere he went, he heard one refrain — “expand early voting days.” Also common among larger South Florida counties was a plea for expanding voting sites beyond city halls and public libraries.
In Miami-Dade, where voters at some polls stood in line for seven hours, county Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsend asked for extended hours and polling places, too, but also proposed a cap on the number of words in state constitutional amendments on the ballot. A smart idea, that.
Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes suggested that local elections officials have more flexibility, especially in larger counties, to respond to heavy turnout during early voting and on Election Day. One of the biggest problems in Broward, according to Ms. Snipes, was the lack of adequate space inside some of the polling places to accommodate the number of voters.
Local supervisors need more leeway in setting up more polling places and expanding voting hours, if needed. The objective is to make sure that everyone who wants to vote can, in a timely and convenient way. That does not describe the voting experience in many precincts in Florida this year, where the presidential tally wasn’t finalized until days after the election.
Mr. Detzner, who was appointed earlier this year, certainly got his marching orders from county election officials: Tell Gov. Scott and the Legislature to make it easier, not more difficult, for all Floridians to exercise their most basic of all constitutional rights without having to wait in line seven hours to do so.