Why Lawmakers Made Voters Wait In Line

Oct 31, 2012

The Wait: Long early voting lines are the partly the result of an end-run around the Florida Supreme Court by the Legislature.
Credit Benjamin Thompson on flickr

It's a compressed early voting period in Florida this year and that's one reason the lines at the polling places are so long.

But it's not the only reason.

Eleven constitutional amendments are on the ballot and each is printed in its entirety. In previous elections, voters would have to deal only with a concise 75-word summary of each proposed amendment, each rigorously vetted by the Florida Supreme Court for clarity.

How rigorously? So much so that proposals have been tossed off the ballot -- in one case, retroactively, after the voters had actually approved it -- because of court conclusions that the summary was misleading.

As Steve Bousquet reported in the Tampa Bay Times, the Legislature vowed never to let that happen again.

As a result, the Legislature exempted itself from the 75-word limit that applies to citizen-sponsored ballot initiatives.

"It's an effort by the Legislature, the body closest to the people, to ensure that voters have the right to vote on these amendments," said Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity.

Corcoran said most voters will do their homework and know the amendments before they vote. But some election supervisors aren't so sure.

"To understand these full-text amendments, you almost have to be a Harvard lawyer," said Sharon Harrington, the Lee County elections supervisor in Fort Myers.

With all that verbiage, election supervisors predict a higher than usual rate of "drop-off," as voters overlook state ballot questions altogether. If they do, they also may skip city or county ballot questions listed below the state questions.

As if that weren't enough, 13 Florida counties, including Miami-Dade and Broward, are also required to print the ballot questions in Spanish and Creole in addition to English.

Rather than negotiate thousands of words of legalese in a voting booth, a lot of people have opted to vote by absentee ballot this time but, as the Sun-Sentinel reports, that hasn’t been a perfect solution.