Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Florida’s sad voting record


OUR OPINION: Time for state to get past election mediocrity

It’s time for Florida to get past its election mediocrity.
It’s time for Florida to get past its election mediocrity.
Miami Herald File Art

As has become all too typical, Florida’s voting performance in the 2012 election was less than stellar. The Pew Charitable Trusts, a reputable nonpartisan organization, studied all 50 states’ handling of the election that gave President Obama a second term and it found Florida wanting yet again.

• While things improved in Sunshine State balloting over the dismal performance of the 2008 national election, said the Pew report, Florida had the nation's 49th-longest wait time to vote.

• Average wait times in the state grew by 16 minutes, to an average of 45 minutes, whereas wait times decreased by three minutes elsewhere.

• Some voters in Miami-Dade County had to wait for eight hours to cast their ballot.

• Florida also had more spoiled or unreturned mail-in ballots than most other states.

Overall, Florida ranked 28th in Pew’s Elections Performance Index, down from 16th place in 2008. Decidedly in the mediocre middle. Those long waits embarrassed the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott enough that they had to retreat from their blatant attempts to limit minority voting in the state. In 2011, lawmakers and the governor cut back early voting hours, banned voting on the Sunday before the election, a popular voting time for black Floridians, and instituted other restrictions — all in the name of preventing election fraud.

But after the long lines at voting precincts gave late-night TV hosts plenty to joke about, the governor and Legislature last year expanded early voting to a minimum of 64 hours over eight days and a maximum of 168 hours over 14 days and reinstated voting on the Sunday before the election. Hopefully, those changes will significantly improve Florida's performance this year, when Floridians will elect a governor, either rewarding Mr. Scott a second term or opting for the candidate the Democrats pick.

Gov. Scott also tried to conduct a voter purge less than 90 days before the 2012 election. It was so riddled with errors that the effort was eventually abandoned. Just last week, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that the attempted purge of non-citizens violated federal elections law, which prohibits states from “systematic” removals of voters less than 90 days before a federal primary or general election.

The ruling comes late to the game but is still significant in protecting voters from such ill-disguised partisan tactics in the future.

The state could ask for a rehearing before the full 11th U.S. Circuit. But it shouldn’t. The Scott administration’s penchant for voter purges — again based on the old canard of preventing voter fraud — took a hit this year when Florida’s chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, dropped plans for yet another voter purge prior to the 2014 election.

Ironically, the Pew voting survey gave Florida a score of 100 percent for the accuracy of its voter registration data base, which makes Republican claims of widespread voter fraud and the necessity for frequent purges of the voting rolls utterly ludicrous.

What state leaders of both parties should concentrate on is making it as easy and convenient as possible for Floridians to vote in every single election. For example, the Legislature should allow on-line voter registration, as 20 other states have done, and expand the number of early-voting locations statewide. It’s time to get past election mediocrity in a key swing state in presidential elections.

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