TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Long voting lines in November that again put Florida under national scrutiny could be eased in future elections if lawmakers restore the early voting days they cut and stop putting so many long constitutional amendment proposals on the ballot, a Senate committee heard Monday.
A panel of nine election supervisors representing counties around the state told the committee that they should have the flexibility to hold at least eight and up to 14 days of early voting, and to be allowed more flexibility in choosing early voting sites. They also said the 11 long questions the Republican-dominated Legislature jammed onto the ballot increased voting time and required more time to scan the multi-paged ballots.
"A shorter ballot reduces voting times and election costs. We must not just look at the number of words, but the number of amendments," said Duval County elections supervisor Jerry Holland.
The Legislature loaded up the ballot with anti-abortion, pro-church, tax cut and anti-Obamacare questions designed to bring out conservative voters. And they took advantage of an exemption that allows the questions to exceed the 75-word limit imposed on citizens groups that petition to have questions placed on the ballot. Counties that had never previously had multi-page ballots used them in the last election, while the ballot in Miami-Dade county was 12 pages long.
Not that voting was a problem everywhere. Several of the supervisors said early voting and election day lines were mostly reasonable. Others reported that lines that were routinely between two and six hours long. And not that it was just the Legislature's fault for slashing early voting days from 14 to eight and cramming proposed amendments on the ballot. Miami-Dade supervisor Penelope Townsley acknowledged that she could have planned for more early voting polling places, but didn't anticipate the need.
"We're not here to place blame on supervisors or the Legislature for what may have happened," said Senate Ethics and Elections Committee chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. "''My personal opinion is there's enough blame to go around."
The goal, though, is to make sure Florida isn't once again mocked for its elections.
"We need to change the image that Florida has nationwide and worldwide that we can't get our elections done on time," said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat and the committee's vice chair.
Supervisors said the Legislature should be kept to a 75-word ballot summary. They also want flexibility in choosing where to hold early voting, saying some non-government buildings would provide more space and more convenient locations, such as senior centers, fair grounds and convention halls.
Several of the supervisors reported that with fewer early voting days, there was increase in the use of absentee ballots, which take longer to confirm and count. Townsley said Miami-Dade received 56,000 absentee ballots combined on the day before and the day of the election.
Among other suggestions, Seminole County elections supervisor Mike Ertel said high school teachers and principals should be allowed to conduct voter registration drives without having to register with the state. The 2011 voting law that reduced early voting days also put more restrictions on voter registration drives. Ertel said that if people forget to sign an absentee ballot, they should be allowed to correct the mistake.
The committee plans to craft a bill addressing elections issues before the annual 60-day legislative session begins March 5. A House committee is also working on its version of an election bill.
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