Election Expert Says Florida's Early Voting Law Kept Minorities From Voting

Nov 15, 2012

Credit Daniel Smith, University of Florida

Daniel Smith, a professor at the University of Florida and expert on election data, says that Florida's new voting law, which cut early voting days from 14 to 8 days, limited voter participation among minorities.

Smith had long warned legislators that last year's voting law would disproportionately affect minority voters, who use early voting significantly more than other groups.

He says that his warnings months ago were right.

"In 2012, we saw a decrease in the composition of African Americans who turned out early largely because the long lines were in the communities in which those early voting centers were placed," Smith says. "There was not enough capacity to move them through."

He says the percentage of registered voters that turned up to vote early on each day of early voting almost doubled from 2008  to 2012. However, the numbers overall were down, he says.

This means more people were jam-packed into this shorter schedule, which he says made the jobs of election officials harder.

"You increase the pressure on the supervisor to be able to get people through the polls," he says.

According to research Smith conducted with Dartmouth professor Michael C. Herron,

...Votes cast during the very early morning hours of Sunday, November 4, in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties—locations that suffered from exceedingly long lines on Saturday, November 3—were disproportionately cast by black voters. Insofar as the longest early voting lines appear to have occurred on the day in which minority voter turnout was the greatest, it appears that minority voters, and in particular black voters, have borne heavily the burden of House Bill 1355, a piece of election-reform legislation passed by the Florida state legislature in 2011, which among other things reduced the early voting period in Florida from 14 to eight days and eliminated early voting on the final Sunday before a Tuesday election.

Gov. Rick Scott announced that he was sending the Florida Secretary of State to Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade to look into why lines were so long and why it took so long to count ballots on Election Day.