Broward has added the Coral Ridge Mall as a new early voting site that will be used during the statewide primary and general election this year when Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist will be on the ballot.
The mall has been used as a polling place on election day, but this is the first time it has been used as an early voting site. The mall, which is connected to a Target and close to a Publix, is a high-traffic area at the corner of Oakland Park Boulevard and Federal Highway near the Oakland Park/Fort Lauderdale border. On Saturdays, it has also been the regular site of a small group of sign-waving tea party activists.
Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, who represents northeast Broward, requested that Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes add an early voting site east of Federal Highway, said Snipes’ spokeswoman Mary Cooney. (LaMarca, the lone Republican on the county commission, faces a tough re-election challenge from Democrat and former county commissioner Ken Keechl in November. LaMarca ousted Keechl in 2010.)
LaMarca said he worked with Snipes’ office and explored about a half dozen sites before settling on the mall in an area behind the Target. The site is accessible by public transportation for seniors and others who live in the Galt Ocean mile area. LaMarca said that many of the voters in that area vote by mail but some had requested an early voting site.
“Fort Lauderdale did have a community center -- unfortunately the space was not available for a two-week block of time,” Cooney said. “It’s a revenue-generating center so they couldn’t give it up.”
Long lines during the 2012 election prompted the Legislature the next year to approve an election reform package that included an expansion of early voting sites. Before that new law, early voting sites were limited to supervisor of elections’ offices, city halls and public libraries. The law added various government-owned buildings, convention centers and stadiums. The law also gave supervisors some flexibility and added a wildcard site: “A supervisor may designate one early voting site per election in an area of the county that does not have any of the eligible early voting locations. Such additional early voting site must be geographically located so as to provide all voters in that area with an equal opportunity to cast a ballot.”
The law does not contain any specifics defining how far away a wild card site must be from other eligible early voting locations.
From glancing at a list of early voting sites Broward used in 2012, one of the closest appears to be the Fort Lauderdale library/ArtServe on Sunrise Boulevard which is about 4.5 miles away from the Coral Ridge Mall.
Earlier this year, the city of Gainesville -- which is heavily Democratic -- asked Republican Secretary of State Ken Detzner if it could use the student union at the University of Florida as an early voting site. Detzner’s office advised the city that it could not use it.
“The terms 'convention center' and 'government-owned community center' cannot be construed so broadly as to include the Reitz Union,” stated an advisory opinion from Maria Matthews, director of the state Division of Elections.
Cooney said that Snipes didn’t need to ask permission from the state to set the mall as an early voting site. Coral Ridge Mall is ADA-compliant and the site will have security, Cooney said.