Local Officials Can Make Or Break The Election Day Experience, New Report Finds

Dec 10, 2013

ELECTION DAY: Lines were long and tempers a little short at the Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections office on election day.
Credit Rick Stone

We Floridians might as well have been voting on different planets during the November, 2012, election. Some of us waited in line for eight or nine hours. Some were in and out of the polling place in eight minutes.

Turnout percentages ranged from the mid 50s to the mid 80s. Depending on where you lived, you had a greater or lesser chance of being forced to vote by provisional ballot, and a greater or lesser chance of that ballot eventually being discarded uncounted.

In a state where election law is exactly the same from county to county, how could this be? What is the elusive variable?

Turns out it’s not so elusive. According to a new report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the performance of the local supervisor of elections office is what makes the difference.

"Two voters in the same state may have a completely different voting experience based simply in where they live," said the organization's Josh Field.

Under the title "Florida's Worst Election Offenders," the report ranks Florida's 40 biggest counties according to nine criteria that include minority registration rates and ballot rejections rates. It finds that St. Augustine's home county, St. Johns, has the best election operation and Columbia County, which contains Lake City in north central Florida, has the worst.

Florida's election systems by county

South Florida counties wound up in the middle of the pack, even though some distinguished themselves for better or worse. Wait times in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach were several hours long. Broward made a good showing of limiting the use of provisional ballots while making sure that most of them were counted.

Throughout the state, the long lines and confusion generated pressure that the Legislature would feel a few months later to back away from harsh restrictions it had imposed in 2011. Deirdre McNab, president of the Florida League of Women Voters and a strident critic of the voting-law changes, said lawmakers had wearied of being jabbed by late-night television comedians. 

"We saw a very genuine interest in [the 2013] legislative session toward beginning to repair some of the problems they had created," McNab says.

But through the varied experiences of Florida voters in their various counties, the election showed the power of local election officials to determine the election day experience.