Sunday, October 26, 2008

Early Voting Florida Snaufs

"I don't have time to complain about the rules," a harried county election worker snapped back. "I just follow them."
Early voting across Florida is bringing record turnouts. But it's also exposed, as the Miami Herald points out today, how Florida's Republican-dominated legislature two years ago "made it harder, not easier, for Floridians to vote."

The legislature mandated a cut-back in early-voting hours and limited the number of early voting polling places a local election supervisor can establish. Supposedly, the legislature acted "to save money." As a result, now, there are only four early voting locations in Escambia County and just two in Santa Rosa County.

Escambia County Early Voting Sites
Supervisor of Elections Main Office
213 Palafox Place, 2nd floor
Pensacola (downtown)

Supervisor of Elections Branch office
292 Muscogee Road

Lucia M. Tryon Branch Library
5740 North 9th Avenue

Southwest Branch Library
12248 Gulf Beach Highway
Santa Rosa County Early Voting Sites

The Elections Office
6495 Caroline St, Suite “F”

South Service Center
5841 Hwy 98
Gulf Breeze

All locations will be open today (Sunday) from 11:30 am to 3:30 pm. Tomorrow (Monday through Saturday, early voting locations in the two counties will be open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.

The scant locations and limited hours are causing long lines in both counties. While we were standing in line over an hour yesterday, we overheard another voter complaining about the long wait, the abbreviated hours, and the gas it took to drive to the distant early voting polling place.

"Can't you do something about this?" he demanded.

"I don't have time to complain about the rules," a harried county election worker snapped back. "I just follow them."

Elsewhere in Florida, it's a "nightmare", as Mike Madden reports for Still, early voting as allowed in some 32 states is bringing record turn-outs, according to the Los Angeles Times. One million have already voted in North Carolina and over 900,000 in Georgia. That's "double the pace" in both states compared with the 2004 election, AFP News service reports.

In Oregon, which blazed the trail in the 1980's with its innovative vote-by-mail system, state officials reported 281,781 returned ballots as of October 23.

Interestingly, Oregon's experience with mail-in ballots has led to a substantial reduction in annual election expenses. While "counties have seen their post costs increase... the overall cost of running a mail election is far lower than a poll election." For example, in the largest county in the state:
At one time, Multnomah County had 2,000 people working at hundreds of polling places. This election, there will be 200 to 300 people working at a single office, said elections director Tim Scott.
Moreover, voter turn-out in Oregon has been around 80 percent of all eligible voters, an order of magnitude or two greater than the best participation rates in the other 49 states.

It makes you wonder, doesn't it? Did the Florida legislature's sudden interest in saving money on elections have more to do with voter suppression and its fundamental distrust of democracy than with economic efficiency?

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