Tuesday’s election went relatively smoothly, in that a White House winner was declared before voters woke up the next morning. But had the voting been closer in states such as Ohio and Florida, the electoral process could have been at the mercy of bumbling officials who just can’t seem to manage the most basic of government functions.
This comes as no surprise in Florida, a state with a rich history of botching the democratic process. Such was the case in Miami-Dade County, where poor planning and understaffed polling places resulted in absurdly long lines in which voters were forced to wait for as long as seven hours.
In Doral, after waiting until 1:42 a.m. to cast ballots in the state’s early-voting period Saturday, voters were told to go home and return the next day to fill out absentee ballots. But they returned Sunday to a chaotic scene, where overwhelmed officials — with just two staffers and five voting booths — abruptly changed plans and locked the doors.
Once tow-truck drivers threatened to remove the cars of voters who refused to leave, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered the doors re-opened.
“When you have 200, 300 voters out there ready to go, you can’t disenfranchise them,” Gimenez said. “I’m certainly embarrassed.”
It’s hard to say whether the debacle in Doral was the result of incompetence or a deliberate voter suppression effort by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who shortened Florida’s early-voting period from 14 days to eight days — four years after President Barack Obama won the state in part because of large early-voting turnout.
Scott may have been hoping his ham-fisted efforts would help his party, but undermining the electoral process raises doubts about every result. For example, Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican and Tea Party favorite, has refused to concede an apparently narrow defeat by challenger Patrick Murphy, citing “disturbing irregularities” in St. Lucie County, and demanding a full recount.
West’s objections may have validity, or they may just be sour grapes — it’s hard to tell, thanks to his state’s failure to hold orderly, transparent elections. And similar problems were reported in Ohio, which saw widespread reports of ballot-counting machine malfunctions.
“They said it would be counted at a later time,” Cleveland resident Todd Underwood said to the Cleveland Plain Dealer after being told the scanners were down. “I’m assuming everything will be fine.”
In 2012, there’s no excuse for the United States to have a dysfunctional patchwork of voting laws, methods and machines that remains vulnerable to partisan chicanery. An election-day catastrophe is only a matter of time as long as those who manage the elections aren’t held accountable.