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Florida official: Cutting early voting times a mistake

Posted April 3, 2013

— The House Elections Committee heard from a Florida official Wednesday who said that curtailing early voting hours during the 2012 election led to long lines on Election Day.

"It was a nightmare," said Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections in Leon County, Fla.

Sancho and Brian Kemp, Georgia's secretary of state, were invited to speak mainly about how voter identification requirements are handled in their states. 

Florida cut back early voting from 14 days to eight days in 2012. Lawmakers in the House and Senate have filed bills that would curtail early voting in North Carolina.

For example, House Bill 451, filed by Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, would cut North Carolina's early voting period by a week, to roughly 10 days, and outlaw early voting on Sundays.

Sancho said that lawmakers in Florida have taken up a bill to both restore the early voting period to a full two weeks and allow for Sunday voting.

Florida counties haven't been able to open enough voting-day locations to keep up with population growth, he said, calling early voting "our safety valve."

Reducing early voting led to Election Day wait times of 45 minutes, on average. The last voter in the state cast a ballot after 2 a.m. on Wednesday, the day after polls formally closed.

"Early voting is where the extra voters have to go," Sancho said. "That's the only way we can accommodate them."

Starnes said he was surprised to hear about Sancho's testimony. He sits on the House Elections Committee but had to leave the hearing before Sancho started his presentation.

"I'd like to know more about what went on in Florida, because it sounds to me like it was more incompetence of people who are running the system. If they just cut it down from 14 to eight days, I can't imagine that would cause a line to be eight hours long," Starnes said. "That's just inconceivable." 

Starnes said he filed his bill to make the process run more smoothly. Shortening the time, he said, would let election officials attract more qualified election workers, noting that the prolonged early voting period keeps many people from volunteering to work at the polling places.

He said that the push-back to his bill from groups like the NAACP has surprised him. The groups say the legislation is an attempt to suppress votes by Democratic-leaning people.

"My attempt was not to deny anyone the right to vote. It was just to make the process work efficiently," Starnes said. "I was frankly just surprised that the blacks took it as an attempt to suppress their vote because that was never my intent at all."

Voter ID praised

Both Sancho and Kemp said that voter ID has been successful in their states. 

In Georgia, Kemp said, the state adopted voter ID requirements in 2006. Since that time, Georgia has issued 29,611 free IDs, which are issued to voters who don't have and can't afford other forms of identification. 

The bulk of those IDs were issued for the 2008 election, Kemp said. Georgia has more than 6 million registered voters.

Noting that opponents to North Carolina's voter ID proposal have said 600,000 voters statewide don't have a photo ID, Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham, said, “I find it fascinating that, apparently, the people of North Carolina are 20 times more likely not to have an ID than the people of Georgia.”

Georgia has spent $1.7 million to date to purchase equipment for its 159 counties to make IDs and on public education campaigns about the ID requirement, Kemp said.

Jones also noted how that cost is much lower than the estimates put forth by ID opponents in North Carolina.

The committee is scheduled to hold a second public hearing on voter ID at 4 p.m. April 10. More than 100 people signed up to speak at a four-hour hearing last month.

House Republicans said they will pass a voter ID requirement this year.

Sancho said that his county has not had to turn away many voters as a result of voter ID requirements. Rather, he said, voters showing up at the wrong precinct is a much bigger issue. As for whether voter ID prevents fraud, Sancho said that was not the case.

The vast majority of fraudulent behavior around elections, he said, involves two circumstances: "absentee ballots and individuals manufacturing voter registration so they get paid for collecting signatures."

12 Comments

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  • Proud Black Constitutionalist Apr 4, 3:37 p.m.

    Early voting equals more democratic corruption!

  • jason19 Apr 4, 3:21 p.m.

    "The GA hears from folks all the time. Trouble is, they always have their minds already made up and don't actually listen. Let's see how this one rolls out..."--Come On_Seriously

    Exactly. You could tell by the way Starnes was talking that he had his mind made up way before they invited these people to speak. Calling someone "incompetent" without really knowing the full situation is indicative of that. Republicans have seriously embarrassed North Carolina, but I fear that average voters do not really understand or care.

  • jason19 Apr 4, 3:18 p.m.

    Wait, so Edgar Starnes really called something that happened in another state "more incompetence of people who are running the system," despite the fact that Starnes previously admitted to not really knowing much about how they did things? Really? How can he throw around potential allegations like that without full knowledge of the process and what is involved?

    Republicans are seriously on a roll in North Carolina. Good Lord. I cannot believe I used to vote for Republicans. NEVER again.

  • Six String Apr 4, 1:47 p.m.

    "In my county a public official was caught voting early and trying to vote again on election day. She would never have gotten caught had she been an average joe. She got by with it b/c she said "she forgot" and of course because of who she was. No kidding, it was reported in our local paper."

    If they caught here doing that she would have been caught anyway, either way. Stupid thing to try. If early voting causes this, what prevents her from going to the polls later in the day and voting again? There is not any reason to not make voting easier unless you like the way North Korea does it -- or Joseph Stalin's methods, in which case it does not matter whether you vote early or not.

  • Danny22 Apr 4, 1:34 p.m.

    In my county a public official was caught voting early and trying to vote again on election day. She would never have gotten caught had she been an average joe. She got by with it b/c she said "she forgot" and of course because of who she was. No kidding, it was reported in our local paper.

  • icmfal Apr 4, 1:29 p.m.

    Early voting does get more people to the Polls to vote. Just think of how many people would could not get to the polls because they have to work and cannot for one reason or another take off from work to go vote. (and Elecation day is not a Paid Holiday in the USA).

    Employers as a rule, do not like people taking off from work - even to go vote.

  • Six String Apr 4, 1:12 p.m.

    "Starnes is usually and he does not need to be in office. He did not want to conceive that cutting early voting would cause longer wait times on election day. Regardless of his efforts to stop the vote, he will not succeed. Most people I know are so fed up with the GOP NC legislature that they would stand in line all night if they had to so they can vote them out.***free2bme"

    Yes, but look at the economic recovery and all of those jobs they know how to create -- the promises to the people they made. So glad they are the ones who know how to create jobs and build the economy. Wonder when they will start on this? Better hurry, because I know a lot of Republicans who say that they are going to vote them out too.

  • Six String Apr 4, 12:01 p.m.

    The current argumenet by the reactionary right wingers is that we used to all vote in one day. We also used to use a horse and buggy too. What reason could anyone logically have for limiting the ease of voting? I can think of one, and that is for political advantage. They can deny it until the cows march home, but that is the ultimate reason.

  • wral mods blow close my account Apr 4, 9:57 a.m.

    Be sure to thank the GOP for the long line you wait in next election.

  • cushioncritter Apr 4, 9:13 a.m.

    One would actually have to vote in Florida post "hanging chad" to see what the problem is. Each election cycle all the equipment is replaced with the latest wireless, touchpad, mobile devices and election day is "rollout day" for the new system, with untrained poll workers calling the main office for technical support to try to get the voting devices online. The "benefit" for all this "cutting edge" technology is that the total Florida vote is not available for 5 days after election day, while the other 49 states had a final count within 24 hours.

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