The long lines of voters leading up to and on Election Day were an embarrassment that must not be repeated. To that end, a Miami-Dade County task force tapped by Mayor Carlos Gimenez is recommending several strategies for the state and the county to fix a system that’s clearly broken.
Securing the right to vote for every American should not be a partisan issue, so it’s encouraging that two Miami-Dade County legislators from opposite sides of the aisle are both offering solutions to ensure the hours-long lines that voters experienced in 2012 don’t happen again. There are differences, of course.
Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican, wants Florida to reinstate early voting on the Sunday before Election Day and increase early voting hours from 12 to 14 hours on the eight days the state now has designated for early voting.
Sen. Gwen Margolis, a Democrat, wants Florida to bring back the 14 days of early voting, which the Republican-led Legislature cut to eight, removing the Sunday before the election. Her bill would also allow for more early voting sites, which the state now limits to elections offices, public libraries and city halls. The problem is some of those sites don’t have sufficient parking, as many voters painfully found out last year.
It shouldn’t be lost on voters that Mr. Diaz de la Portilla’s committee was instrumental in changing the early voting days to eight last year. To his credit, the legislator is pushing for opening up the Sunday before the election for early voting and extending the hours of the early voting days overall to a maximum of 126. Right now, the law allows 96 hours.
Still, the question begs: Why not simply return to 14 days of early voting?
If the rationale is “saving taxpayers money” you have to wonder what price to put on democracy. It costs $20,000 a day to run early voting sites in Miami-Dade, according to the county. Surely, when the budgets are in the billions of dollars, that kind of money is well worth ensuring access to the polls.
The advisory task force also is recommending that people who use absentee ballots should be able to drop them off at their polling site on Election Day. Right now, a voter showing up at his or her precinct on Election Day with a filled-out absentee ballot will likely be asked to get in line, then give it to poll workers to destroy so that the voter can fill out a regular ballot in person at the precinct. Seems to be just one more time-consuming obstacle that’s meant to turn away voters not help them.
Gov. Rick Scott, who refused to expand early voting hours or extend the number of days even as it became clear that voting lines were stretched to the streets not only in South Florida but in the Tampa area and other metropolitan areas throughout Florida, now says he’s open to suggestions. Here’s an easy one: Just bring back the 14 days.
Meantime, the county task force is working on adding more early voting sites (the county now uses 20 out of a potential 85). Parking may be a problem at many of those sites, which should push the county to find creative ways — bus shuttles to nearby parking lots? — to help people get to the polls.
Mayor Gimenez also wants the group to come up with criteria that would set a goal of no more than an hour’s wait in line. If that’s a maximum, maybe, but that still seems inordinately long for working people.
Voting is not a trip to Disney World. It’s a right that’s fundamental to our democracy.