Early voting has seen its fair share of issues thus far where some voters using electronic voting machines have experienced calibration issues that change votes for GOP candidate Mitt Romney to Democratic candidate Barack Obama. Now early voting out of Florida has resulted in the election’s first lawsuits due to “inadequate polling facilities,” which had voters waiting for hours to cast ballots.
Florida’s early voting program was the main focus in the campaign’s final weekend, and memories of the state’s disputed 2000 presidential vote between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush are still fresh.
According to the Associated Press, with early polling facilities closing Saturday afternoon, about 4.3 million of Florida’s 11.9 million registered voters have already made their selections. Some of those Orange, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward Counties waited for upwards of four hours (one reported a nine hour wait), leading Democrats to sue for extended early voting hours. The Atlantic Wire noted that these latter three counties alone comprise 32 percent of the state’s Democrats.
University of Florida political science professor told the Huffington Post, the situation in Florida over the wekend was “an election meltdown that is eerily similar to 2000, minus the hanging chads.”
Here’s how the “meltdown” played out at each county:
- Orange County: The Winter Park library polling location in the county was shut down for several hours when a suspicious package – a cooler – was found outside. It was later detonated by a local bomb squad. Given that the county is in the state’s Interstate 4 corridor, which is described by the Associated Press as a populous “swing” region that can be a decision-maker in close elections, a judge ruled to extend voting hours Sunday.
- Miami-Dade County: A location was shut down Saturday due to concern that limited personnel and one printer wouldn’t be able to handle the large turnout, Deputy Supervisor Christina White said. Nearly 200 voters still in line, banged on the front doors and according to separate article in the Huffington Post, the group chanted “Let us vote! Let us vote!” until the doors reopened an hour later. To remedy the problem, the Miami-Dade elections office reopened to accept absentee ballots Sunday. Here’s a video from a Miami voter of the line:
Here’s another video showing upset voters, including one who said “This is not Cuba. This is not China. We cannot allow this to happen.”:
- Palm Beach County: The Palm Beach Post reported that although the county experienced long lines, the process seemed to go smoothly. Still Susan Bucher, supervisor of elections in Palm Beach County, said she decided to open and accept absentee ballots Sunday because “we are allowed to do so.” In this video, David Lutrin, who is running for District 85 Florida House of Representatives, said fewer early voting days and the governor’s refusal to extend hours are “deliberate attempts of the Republican legislature and the governor to make it harder to vote and keep people away from the polls”:
- Broward County: Voters were only allowed to pick up absentee ballots Sunday if they made an appointment in advance.
Early voting has been central to the Obama campaign’s efforts to win Florida and other swing states. More Democrats than Republicans tend to vote early, and a sizable advantage among early voters in Florida in 2008 helped Obama defeat Republican rival John McCain by 3 points, 51 percent-48 percent.
Gov. Rick Scott, though, refused to extend early voting hours after the issues experienced in some precincts over the weekend. The Palm Beach Post reported Secretary of State Ken Detzner saying supervisors can run elections in their counties as they see fit. Many of them skirted the governor’s refusal by encouraging voters to pick up absentee ballots. But University of Kentucky School of Law professor Josh Douglas foresees a problem.
“This is a hook for a post-election challenge,” said Douglas, according to the Palm Beach Post. “All 67 counties aren’t offering voters the same opportunities. You can’t have a handful of counties doing their own thing without any state authorization.”
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The Associated Press contributed to this report. Beth Fouhy reported from Washington. Associated Press Writers Curt Anderson in Miami, Ann Sanner in Columbus, Ohio, and Scott Bauer in Madison, Wis., contributed to this report.