As a veteran of the 2000 recount and several subsequent close Florida elections (to understand my recount role just Google my name and 2000 recount or 2000 Florida recount or whatever) I can attest to the seemingly constant electoral problems our state appears to have.
But in defense of our state, I would say voting is efficient and incorruptible in most of Florida. Smaller counties tally votes quickly and most metropolitan counties are able to handle the flow of ballots quickly and process results in a similarly timely fashion as the majority of locales around the nation.
But every cycle we come back to the voting issues in heavily Democratic southeastern Florida, in the three counties that comprise the Miami urban area, the nation’s 4th most populated urban conglomeration. I would preface everything below by saying the purple nature of my state, and the sheer size in terms of population has put a scrutiny on us that other places don’t have. It is very possible similar problems occur everywhere, but it’s simply more noticeable in Florida because of what is at stake.
This article is meant to be a quick primer for outsiders not a detailed dive into the systematic problems in conducting elections in southern Florida. Here are some quick and easy points.
Broward County, the most heavily Democratic mega-county in the southeast United States has a constant problem with the enormity of elections. Getting Election Day volunteers and workers in a county of 2 million people with many registered voters who don’t speak good English (or English at all) complicates things. English is the mother tongue for only slightly more than half of Broward residents.
The number of municipalities in the county also creates a dynamic where several dozen ballot styles have to be distributed around the county and unfortunately errors occur. To top this off, the Supervisor of Elections herself, Brenda Snipes isn’t terribly efficient but in her defense the County Commission hasn’t given her enough in the way of resources to become less reliant on volunteers. Mistakes happen including perhaps whole races being left off ballots. This is a recurring problem in Broward and neighboring Palm Beach County.
In Palm Beach County, the Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher is a former progressive legislative hero who as a legislator was a personal favorite of mine. Always efficient, Bucher runs a tighter ship than most places, but perhaps too tight. Micromanagement means mistakes are minimal but counting is slower and with a county of close to 1.5 million residents it means final results are sometimes in the balance until actual certification which doesn’t happen for days.
Miami-Dade County like Broward has over two million residents, the vast majority which DO NOT have English as their mother tongue. The legislature’s insistence on distributing ballots where English is first to every person in the state creates voting problems in both Dade and Broward counties. I’ve long advocated Spanish-only ballots and the removal of English’s constitutional status as the official language of Florida. But absent that happening, Miami-Dade is likely to continue to have small problems that dog election days.
Like Broward, Miami-Dade is filled with small municipalities and even complicated with lots of unincorporated areas with different ballot styles. The county’s counting system has become more and more efficient through the years but budgets aren’t what they need to be and similarly to Broward, finding well-qualified, multilingual volunteers has proven to be a tough job.
I’m not at all making excuses for southeastern Florida. But the consistent voting issues we have here can be easily explained. For a deeper dive into the processes in these officers, particularly Broward’s, we will have to wait for another day.