State Department issues elections recommendationsby Dara Kam | February 4th, 2013
A possibly longer early voting period, more kinds of early voting sites and limiting the length of constitutional questions placed on the ballot by the Legislature are among Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s recommendations to lawmakers released today.
Detzner’s suggestions, based on conversations with supervisors of elections in what he called “under-performing” counties including Palm Beach, dovetail with what the supervisors are requesting.
The supervisors for years have asked lawmakers to expand the types of early voting sites now restricted to elections offices, county libraries and city halls. Detzner’s recommendations would add other government-operated facilities including civic centers, county commission buildings, courthouses, fairgrounds and stadiums.
Detzner recommends limiting the number of words for legislators’ proposed constitutional amendments. Lawmakers in 2000 exempted themselves from the 15-word title and 75-word ballot summary imposed on citizens’ initiatives. Detzner also recommends repealing the statute that allows lawmakers to place the full text of the constitutional amendment, including stricken or underlined text, on the ballot.
Detzner also made several secondary recommendations:
_ Lengthen the deadline for mailing absentee ballots to voters, now 10 days before the election, and allow canvassing boards to start processing absentee ballots earlier than 15 days before the election now in state law.
_ Restrict “in-person” absentee voting at the counter. Elections supervisors complained that they were inundated by in-person absentee voters, including on Election Day, and blamed President Obama’s campaign for using the in-person absentee voting as a way around early voting restrictions.
“‘In-person absentee’ voting, as currently implemented, has created a de facto early voting extension that can interfere with Election Day preparations and delay election results until after Election Day,” Detzner wrote in his report.
_ Allow chief judges to appoint alternates to canvassing commissions, now comprised of a county judge, the chairman of the county board of commissioners and the elections supervisor.
_ Impose fines for underperforming elections vendors. St. Lucie County’s elections results were delayed because memory cards failed, and Palm Beach County elections staff were forced to hand-copy nearly 20,000 flawed ballots because of the printer’s errors.
_ Require elections supervisors to upload results earlier. St. Lucie County could not meet the deadline for certification of elections results because, in part, staff uploaded results later due to the memory card failures.
And Detzner had several “additional considerations,” including:
_ Allow voters to update their signatures at the polls and on absentee ballots.
_ Shorten the time frame elections supervisors process voter registration forms from 13 to seven days.
_ Use the voting record in the statewide voter information system as the official registration record.
And Detzner made some suggestions for the supervisors, as well:
_ Purchase the most up-to-date elections equipment;
_ Review the precincts used in 2012 and make any changes as necessary based on turnout and length of time voters had to wait.
_ Make sure vendors can provide assistance, maintenance and equipment.
Detzner, who wrote that the “2012 General Election was a fair election as a whole” but that Florida’s elections could be improved, also got a dig in at the supervisors at the end of his 12-page report.
“One county or precinct that does not properly serve its voters does a disservice for the entire state and has the potential to cloud the positive steps taken by the rest of the state to conduct an accessible and efficient election. Supervisors of elections and county commissions must take it upon themselves to oversee elections through responsible leadership and efficient administration. Similarly, the Florida Legislature must ensure Florida has the best election laws possible in which supervisors of elections may operate,” he wrote.
Gov. Rick Scott, who signed into law a sweeping election bill (HB 1355) two years ago that shortened the early voting period from 14 to eight days and did away with early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, tasked Detzner to come up with the recommendations. Scott, who refused to extend early voting hours despite lines of up to eight hours in some areas including Palm Beach County, reversed his position on the bill and now supports an eight-to-14-day early voting period. Scott also said he wants to reinstate the Sunday before Election Day, dubbed “Souls to the Polls” by black church leaders who organized voting drives after church services in 2008. Scott also said lawmakers’ own proposed constitutional amendments need to be shorter after elections officials blamed the lengthy ballot for the voting delays. The GOP-dominated legislature placed 11 constitutional amendments on the November ballot; three received the 60 percent approval from voters required to pass. The remaining eight did not even receive 50 percent approval.