To the editor:
The election disaster in Lee County could have been averted with proper planning and less political interference. The long lines left voters angry and frustrated and likely depressed voter turnout from 85.3 percent in the 2008 presidential election to 68.7 percent in 2012. The haunting question will be how many voters lost their opportunity to vote.
There were five fundamental factors that led to the torturous, long lines: a decrease in the number of polling locations, a decrease in the number of early voting days, the non-arrival of vote by mail (absentee) ballots, the unusually long ballot, and inadequate preparation by the Supervisor of Elections' office for this election.
Due to the 2010 census, the number of precincts in Lee County was reduced this year from 171 to 125, and correspondingly the number of polling locations. This meant that more voters were squeezed into fewer polling places.
The number of early voting days were decreased from 14 to eight days, thanks to Governor Scott and the Republican legislature. Democrats believe that it was an attempt to suppress the Democratic vote since minorities vote in large numbers in early voting. On the last day of early voting in Cape Coral, some people stood in line anywhere from four to six hours. The Governor refused a request by the non-partisan League of Women Voters, and others, to extend the voting days and hours as former governors Bush and Crist had done in the past. Frustrated voters had no recourse but vote on Election Day, which worsened the bottleneck at the polls.
Adding to the problem were voters who never received their absentee ballots. Their only option was to vote in person at early voting or on Election Day. On Thursday Nov. 1, there were 27,000 voters who had not received their absentee ballots out of the 102,000 voters who originally requested them. It wasn't well publicized what those voters should do. Many voters were calling or emailing the Lee County Democratic Party office. They thought that they would have to vote a provisional ballot instead of being allowed to vote in person at early voting or on Election Day. The Lee Elections website could have provided instructions for voters, and saved their employees many anxious phone calls and relaying of conflicting information.
The ballot loaded up with all those amendments was inflicted on voters by the legislature who failed to do its job of passing laws. The long anticipated lengthy ballot was definitely a problem since it took longer to complete and scan. The Collier County Supervisor of Elections office started preparing for this scenario about eight months ahead of the elections and had shorter lines. They mostly had two to four scanners deployed, whereas the Lee County office had only one or two scanners deployed. The Lee County Supervisor of Elections should have done simulations and a better job of analysis of voter turnout and equipment needs.
Long lines all over Florida were due to election supervisors being burdened by partisan decisions made by Governor Scott and the legislature about early voting and countless amendments. Florida stuck out like a sore thumb on election night for once again not being able to declare a winner. It took four days after the election for Florida's Secretary of State to declare Barack Obama the official winner of Florida's 29 electoral votes.
No matter what your party affiliation is, voting is an American's most precious right. We need election reform in the state of Florida, and the governor and the Lee Supervisor of Elections should be held accountable. This will ensure that our ability to vote will never be compromised again.
Chair, Lee County Democratic Party