ORLANDO – If there’s one thing Gov. Rick Scott and local civil rights leaders agree on, it’s that the state needs to take a fresh look at election procedures in Florida, the last state to report results in the 2012 presidential race.
But that’s about all they agree on.
On Saturday, President Obama was declared the winner of Florida’s 29 electoral votes, following a four-day count. The Florida Secretary of State’s Office noted that with roughly 100 percent of the vote counted, the president led Republican challenger Mitt Romney by a margin of 50 percent to 49.1 percent, and a lead of 74,000 votes out of more than 8 million cast.
The president did particularly well in Central Florida, taking 62 percent of the vote in Osceola County, and 59 percent in Orange – margins well above Romney’s percentages in other neighboring counties like Polk (53 percent), Seminole (also 53 percent) and Volusia (50 percent). Obama also ran up huge margins in Democratic strongholds in South Florida.
Florida’s delayed count was blamed in part on very long lines that turned out at the polls on election day – lines that in some counties were still visible hours after the polls had closed.
Civil rights activists have blamed that on the decision by Gov. Scott to reduce early voting from 14 days to seven.
Activists also blame the delay on passage of a law in 2011 aimed at groups that register new voters.
That election law required those groups to turn in their completed forms within 48 hours or face possible penalties. Previously, these groups had been given 10 days to submit their forms. Several organizations, including the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote, stopped working in the state as a result.
Last August, a federal judge blocked provisions of the measure.
J. Willie David, III, president of the Florida Civil Rights Association, criticized that law and called on the Florida Legislature to repeal it, saying it was a central cause of the problems plaguing Florida 2012 voting process.
“Governor Scott’s 2011 election law turned Florida into the Voter Suppression Capital of America,” David said. “Governor Scott’s election law was meant to suppress the African American and Hispanic vote, and ended up disenfranchising the entire voting population in Florida regarding the presidential race.”
Likewise, the League of Women Voters called the delayed count and embarrassment and called for changes.
“Florida voters saw the culmination of a general election process that can be summarized in one word — unacceptable,” said League of Women Voters of Florida President Deirdre Macnab. “We are formally calling on the governor and the Legislature to follow the example of 2000 and appoint a multi-partisan task force chaired by trusted leaders. We must finally put Florida’s shameful election disasters behind us.”
The delayed vote count in Florida received plenty of national media attention, even though President Obama had already been re-elected and Florida’s vote totals and electoral count were not vital in deciding the race.
But the slow count did prompt some journalists to offer reminders of the 2000 presidential race, when Republican George W. Bush carried Florida by just 535 votes over Democrat Al Gore, leading to a lengthy and protracted recount that was finally decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
As Florida became the subject of unflattering segments on national news programs last week, Scott announced his administration would look into the problems confronting local election officials.
“Around 8.5 million Floridians voted in this general election – more votes cast than in any other election in state history,” the governor noted. “A record of nearly 4.8 million Floridians also voted early and by absentee ballots. We are glad that so many voters made their voices heard in this election, but as we go forward we must see improvements in our election process.”
Scott said he’s asked Secretary of State Ken Detzner to review this general election, “and report on ways we can improve the process after all the races are certified. As part of this evaluation, Secretary Detzner will meet with county election supervisors, who are elected or appointed to their position – especially those who ran elections in counties where voters experienced long lines of four hours or more. We need to make improvements for Florida voters and it is important to look at processes on the state and the county level. We will carefully review suggestions for bettering the voting process in our state.”
Civil rights leaders, though, blamed state, not local, officials. David noted that the state Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, placed 11 referendums on the Nov. 6 ballot, many of them poorly worded and confusing to voters, while the governor’s decision to reduce early voting hours also added to the long lines.
“Floridians suffered long lines and hours waiting at the polls to vote, a historic lengthy ballot, and Governor Scott’s refusal to extend early voting hours is real evidence of how to kill democracy,” David said. “We will not rest until someone is held accountable for turning the Florida into the Voter Suppression Capital of America.”
David said current election laws prevented the Supervisors of Elections in various counties from having sufficient time to count all their ballots, and that many of them are working with smaller budgets than in the past.
“The Supervisors of Elections are being demanded to do more with less time and money,” David said. “Basically, the Supervisors of Election are being given unfunded mandates to create a smooth and efficient vote counting process, but are being hampered by a lack of resources and a lack of common sense legislation that would enable them to do their jobs unfettered.”
The Florida Civil Rights Association has called on lawmakers to fully repeal the 2011 Election Law, to restore the number of early voting days, to allow supervisors of election to count early votes cast prior to election day, but not release of the results until after election day.
They also want a system allowing Floridians to vote electronically through the Internet, with the use of a secure PIN generated by the Supervisors of Election.
“Such a system should be in place no later than 2015/2016 presidential primaries,” David said.
The League of Women Voters called on a task force to make final recommendations to the Legislature early next year, at the start of the 2013 legislative session.
In the meantime, Scott urged Floridians to put aside their political differences.
“Now that the election is over we have an opportunity to come together – regardless of political party – and focus on the issues important to Florida families,” Scott said. “Our families care about getting a great job, a quality education and keeping their cost of living low. Making our state better for Florida families is our ultimate goal.”
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.