Harrington explains long lines at the polls for 2012 election
The Lee County supervisor of elections shared her explanation of why voters experienced long lines at the polls during the 2012 general election this week at the Greater Pine Island Civic Association meeting.
“There is no such thing as a perfect election,” Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington told the crowd, adding that she and her staff work to keep problems to a minimum.
If everyone works together – including the state Legislature – she said she sincerely believes they can avoid reoccurrences of what happened in last year’s election.
Early voting saw long lines at the five polling sites set up countywide. This contributed to more voters opting to cast a ballot on election day where, at some precincts, they waited hours to vote.
Harrington said they have to restore the confidence of the voters and fix the problems that occurred in Lee and other counties.
“This was not a situation just for Lee County or the state of Florida,” Harrington said. “A lot of states had the same issues.”
Lee County Commissioner John Manning, of Cape Coral, also attended the meeting and shared a few comments about the past election. He said when the Legislature allows questions on the ballot, they are only supposed to be 75 words per issue.
In 2012, 98 percent of the ballot questions were beyond the word count, which was part of the problem, Manning said.
“Going into 2014, we are not going to have those problems,” he said. “We want to nip this in the bud now. The Legislature needs to understand us at the local level and understand our needs.”
Those issues were a combination of things that contributed to a “perfect storm” election, Harrington said.
The 2012 general election also was the first election using new precinct boundaries. With the new boundaries, the number of polling places were reduced from 171 to 125 with an average of 2,900 voters per precinct.
Since they were trying to keep cost down, redistricting offered the elections office an opportunity to try and make that happen.
Harrington said they are currently reviewing reports by precinct to see what method individuals used to vote – by mail, early voting or on Election Day. She said that information will provide a better picture of each polling location.
“Early voting is not a science,” she said. “It is just a prediction because of the nature.”
The polls were open 12 hours a day during early voting, with very long lines each day. The same issue occurred in 2008 as well, according to Harrington.
By looking at each precinct they will have a better understanding of the diversity by which individuals vote, she added.
Unfortunately because of the situation that occurred during the 2012 election, some of the polling sites backed out and will no longer be a location for voters. Elections offices can only use federal, ADA compliant locations for precinct locations.
“It is very difficult to get and keep polling places,” she said.
For early voting, they are restricted to the main office, branch offices that have been in existence for at least a year, city halls or libraries. Harrington said if they had more options, they would be able to better serve the voters.
Any expansion in the number of precincts, she said, would take additional funding for additional sites, equipment and manpower.
Harrington said she has met with the Lee County manager and assistant manager to discuss the issues of locating more sites, purchasing more equipment and hiring poll additional workers. She said although no specific amount of money was discussed, it may be better to ease things into the system, rather than running to the store and buying things.
Harrington said the question arises as to whether they would be throwing money at a problem that may never exist again.
“I am not going to take that chance,” she said, adding that voters cannot take that chance, either.
Another contributing factor to the long lines were the extremely long ballots, Harrington said. Each ballot page during early voting had to be printed on the spot and with four pages per voter, it took a long time.
“For every voter, we had to multiple that by four pages,” she said.
Longer ballots also caused an issue for the vendors with stuffing the envelopes with four pages, instructions and the secrecy sleeves. Harrington said the envelopes in which they mailed the ballots were also smaller and the postage was more expensive.
“These are just a few of the factors that led to early voting and long lines on election day,” she said.
Harrington said the issue began a couple of years ago when, under then Gov. Charlie Crist, the state did away with the touch screens. She said 18 out of 68 counties, which included some of the largest counties in Florida, were using them at the time.
“After a specific time, (we were) no longer allowed to use those,” Harrington said, which occurred after initially spending $5.8 million for the equipment.
During the 2004 election, she said they only received one scanner for every precinct and one for each early voting site.
“It gave us nothing for backups,” Harrington said.
She addressed the question of why did they not use the backups during Election Day.
“These are pieces of equipment that the poll workers train on, set them up and take them down,” she said, adding that she was not confident in sending them to the precinct.
On election day, they dispersed five extra machines to some of the precincts and replaced five that went completely down, leaving them with only five.
Harrington also spoke about the deputies, who are the poll workers who stand at the entrance to the precinct. She said they remind the voters to have their driver’s license out and ready to proceed with voting.
“These folks have passes in their pocket,” Harrington said, which can be given to anyone with a disability that could not stand in line. “We don’t want anyone standing in line that can not stand in line.”
She said voters can always go to the deputy and tell them they need the assistance.
Harrington said if someone moves up to the front of the line because of their disability, the entire party moves up.