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Report: Ease of voting varies widely across Florida counties

by John Kennedy | December 9th, 2013

Palm Beach County landed in the middle of the pack in a statewide analysis released Monday that looked at the best and worst counties in Florida for voting accessibility.

Palm Beach has been home to some historic mess-ups – ranging from the 2000 butterfly ballot to last year’s days-long delay in counting absentee and provisional ballots from the November election.

But the report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund ranked Palm Beach County 17th in a worst-to-first summary of overall voting performance in Florida’s 40th largest counties. Columbia County was rated the state’s worst while St. Johns County drew the highest marks.

“People are having dramatically different voting experiences based on the county in which they are registered,” said Tom Perriello, president and CEO of the fund, a public policy research organization founded by John Podesta, a former chief-of-staff to President Bill Clinton.

In its Florida report, the fund reviewed county performance across nine categories.

Among them were wait times for voters, the percentage of voting-age population registered, overall turnout compared to the rest of the state, minority turnout, and the number of provisional and absentee ballots counted or rejected.

Brad Ashwell, with Common Cause of Florida, who participated in a conference call Monday announcing the findings, said the report should help shape election law decisions in coming months. He said it shouldn’t be viewed as “hostile toward supervisors.”

“We want to work with them to improve elections over the next decade,” Ashwell said.

Among those also speaking was Sonya Gibson, a volunteer with the Florida New Majority, who recounted the trouble she had in casting a vote in West Palm Beach last November.

Gibson said she stood in line for nine hours at an early voting site before giving up the day before the election, and another 10 hours at a polling place before finally voting.

“I believe voting is a fundamental right,” Gibson said. “And it should be easier to access for me and members of my community.”

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