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The perfect storm

November 10, 2012
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington apologized Wednesday for Tuesday's polling debacle.

That is to be commended.

Voters at numerous polling sites, including many in Cape Coral and on Sanibel and Pine Island faced hours-long waits because the supervisor's office failed to properly take into account both the number of voters who would choose to vote on election day and the amount of time it would take to scan a four-page ballot through the readers, or optical scanning devices.

Voters in some locations waited as long as six hours to cast a ballot on election day with long waits also eported through the early voting process, likely adding to the logjam at precincts with multiple voting stations queuing into a single scanner through which voters fed their ballots a page at a time.

In her apology, Ms. Harrington acknowledged these problems and noted also that training issues exacerbated the waits. She issued a visibly heartfelt vow to correct the issues before the next election.

That is commendable as well.

What was lacking, however, was a definitive acknowledgement that the procedural meltdown was due primarily to a failure to prepare properly for the primary causes cited: the four-page ballot, lack of enough scanning equipment to accommodate those ballots efficiently, and the possibility of higher election day turnout due to fewer early voting days.

And that is disappointing.

First, Ms. Harrington and her office knew well in advance of Tuesday's General Election what the length of the ballot would be. That was determined after the August primary.

She, in fact, had warned that the long ballot would add to voting times. Her office failed, however, to take into account equipment needs necessitated by that record-length ballot in a presidential election year which, historically, has high voter turnout.

Lines and long waits during early voting failed to serve as a wakeup call.

Two, had the cut in early voting days from 14 to eight been a major concern, more early voting sites could have been added.

According to the Department of Elections website, in addition to election offices, supervisors can designate any city hall or public library branch as an early voting polling site.

With the exception of the East Lee County Regional Library, it was an option untapped. Meanwhile, Collier County, with 180,560 registered voters set up seven early voting sites; Sarasota County, with 277,381 registered voters, set up six. Lee County has 388,427 and held at five.

Finally, Ms. Harrington cited the need to work with the Lee County Commission on her budget and financial pressures to keep costs down.

Let us point out that Ms. Harrington is a constitutional officer and, as such, prepares her own budget for submission to the county commission.

Should the board deny her requests for the funding needed to run her office and properly conduct its primary function - as efficient an election process as possible - she can appeal directly to the governor.

Ms. Harrington has not only operated within the budgets submitted and approved, she has returned funds to the county - nearly $2 million, according to one news account.

Simply stated, the buck stopped with Ms. Harrington.

And yes, she let the voters down.

We will not add our voice among those who have called for her resignation.

There was no malice here, no intention to suppress votes or deny anyone the opportunity to cast a ballot.

There was just gross incompetence.

Which is bad enough.

Breeze editorial



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