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Florida's Voting System Cited for Long Waits at Polls

Photo: Florida is one of three states cited in a new report on Election Day lines and significant waits at polling places. According to the report, Latino and African-American are especially affected. Photo credit: Institute for Southern Studies.
Photo: Florida is one of three states cited in a new report on Election Day lines and significant waits at polling places. According to the report, Latino and African-American are especially affected. Photo credit: Institute for Southern Studies.
September 18, 2014

MIAMI - Election season in the Sunshine State is in full swing, with candidates competing for your vote - but it may take longer to cast your ballot depending on where you live. Florida is among the three states named in a national report examining long waits at the polls.

According to the report, released by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University (NYU) School of Law, more than one in five polling places in Florida had a wait of more than one hour in the 2012 election. Myrna Perez, director of voting rights and elections project at Brennan Center, says "unreasonably" long lines tarnish democracy.

"They make our democracy less free, less fair and less accessible," she says. "There's certainly Americans who don't have a realistic possibility of waiting around in an excessively long line."

Sixty-one percent of Florida polling sites had a wait of more than 30 minutes in 2012, which Perez says is difficult for many citizens, particularly those who work hourly jobs and others unable to take long absences during their work day. A bipartisan commission appointed in 2013 by President Obama found "no citizen should have to wait in line for more than 30 minutes to vote." Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner also released a report in 2013 with recommendations on how to improve the state's election system.

According to Perez, race plays a role in who waits the longest at the polls. The Brennan Center found precincts with large numbers of African-Americans and Latinos experienced disproportionately longer wait times. Perez says that's partly because many of those precincts have fewer voting machines.

"Regardless of party support, we want a country that has accessible and free and fair elections," says Perez. "If we have particular groups of voters that are getting the short end of the stick, that's something that we need to assess."

Unlike some other states, Florida law does not dictate any set standards for the number of poll workers or voting machines at each precinct. The report recommends that legislators provide election officials with financial support to properly equip polling places.

Maryland and South Carolina were the other two states highlighted in the report.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - FL