Planning must happen now to avoid long lines at the polls on the March 17 primary

TALLAHASSEE–All Voting is Local, Campaign Legal Center (CLC), Fair Elections Center and Southern Poverty Law Center today urged four county election officials to offer the maximum days and hours of early voting provided by state law–in advance of the March 17 primary election. Without more opportunities to cast a ballot early, election officials in Alachua, Broward, Palm Beach and Volusia counties risk subjecting voters to Election Day chaos similar to Super Tuesday, where voters in other states endured hours-long lines to make their voices heard.

“Offering the maximum number of days and hours of early voting allowed under Florida law is especially important for voters of color, students, and voters with disabilities,” the groups write, in their letter. “Early voting also reduces the high numbers of people who show up to the polls on Election Day thereby reducing the stress for your staff, chances that problems will occur, and increasing the time to remedy any problems that do occur.”

The groups warn election officials to act now to avoid the long lines at the polls that have burdened Florida voters in previous election years. Two counties in particular – Broward and Palm Beach – have a long history of Election Day problems dating back to hanging chads of the 2000 election to long lines after early vote access was reduced in 2012. Yet, these counties are currently only planning to offer the bare minimum early voting hours.

The groups write: “In 2011, the Florida legislature passed, and Governor Rick Scott signed into law, significant cuts to early voting. The result was Floridians waiting hours to cast their ballot in the 2012 presidential election, and, according to research by the Orlando Sentinel and Ohio State University professor Theodore Allen, more than 200,000 voters leaving the polls without voting. The national attention on this grave error in election administration caused the state to change course, restoring opportunities to vote early so that every eligible voter in Florida can make their voice heard.”

Earlier this week, advocates sent a letter to Bay County officials, who are piloting vote centers this election cycle, urging them to add more early voting sites and hours in African American communities, or risk being responsible for disenfranchising Black voters. The letter noted Bay County officials allotted eight days of early voting in most of their sites, but only one day of early voting at a site in a predominantly black community. Such glaring disparities threaten to silence voters and erect discriminatory barriers to the people who can least afford to fight back against them.

This week, All Voting is Local and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights launched And Still I Vote, a national call to action to overcome discriminatory barriers to voting, such as lack of access to early voting, and to help ensure that all eligible voters get to cast a ballot and have it counted.

Additionally, last month, All Voting is Local issued a report calling for standards to countywide vote centers, urging that election officials must ensure voting access is fair and equitable in all communities. Without careful planning, vote centers will lead to long lines as they did on Tuesday in Los Angeles County, California and Harris County, Texas. More info here.

The letter to Alachua County can be found here.

The letter to Broward County can be found here.

The letter to Palm Beach County can be found here.

The letter to Volusia County can be found here.