The first time I ever voted was a Saturday.
This was back in 2008, when I was a senior in high school. My mom and I spent over an hour one October Saturday waiting to cast our ballots at our local library. As a first-time voter, the excitement and energy was almost tangible — even weeks before Election Day.
Almost everyone I knew in high school who was also eligible to vote in that election voted early. Sometimes out of convenience, sometimes out of sheer excitement for then-Sen. Barack Obama’s candidacy. And I’m glad to say early voting seemed to be just as popular this time around, with my Facebook feed blowing up with statuses about early voting the week before the election.
Nonetheless, over 48 hours after the electoral victory was given to the president, I still don’t know whether my home state went red or blue.
That’s right: I’m a Floridian.
Thankfully, unlike 2000, the presidential election didn’t hinge on the returns out of Florida. Still, if one or two swing states had gone in favor of Republican challenger Mitt Romney, we may have woken up today without a president-elect.
Voters line up in the dark to beat the 7 p.m. deadline to cast their ballots at a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 6 in Miami.
The pending count in Florida, however, does have congressional implications, USA TODAY reports. Rep. Allen West, a Republican, is trailing Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy and may pursue legal action to call for a recount.
Three elections after the infamous 2000 recount, and Florida remains, in layman’s terms, a hot mess when it comes to voting.
The problem this time around, however, isn’t hanging chads or other ballot malfunction issues (unless you count the length of the ballot — my absentee ballot was 12 pages long with numerous proposed state amendments).
On Election Day, in some areas of the state, particularly the very diverse and liberal counties in South Florida, voters stayed in line to vote past midnight — after the major television networks called the election in favor of Obama. (The polls in Florida close at 7 p.m. local time on Election Day, but those still in line may remain wait to cast their ballot.)
I commend those late-night voters and their tenacity in exercising their right to vote. Unfortunately, however, the state government has not made it any easier for eligible voters to do so.
Among the problems election officials faced were longer early voting hours over fewer days, fewer polling locations, a late flood of absentee ballots and heavy volume, according to NPR.
In an interview with USA TODAY, political scientist Charles Stewart called on the state to “professionalize its elections management, increase access to polling places, adopt best practices used elsewhere and expand absentee and early voting.”
The District of Columbia and 32 states allowed early voting. Obviously, at least this election around, voters aren’t waiting for the results from a state without early voting. That may not always be the case. A Tuesday in November — a work day during a season with severe weather (I’m thinking of the superstorm and nor’easter that sandwiched Election Day in the northeast) — is too inconvenient and too narrow a time frame to allow for high voter turnout.
Along with early voting, voter education is obviously key. Some Floridians reportedly took over 40 minutes to finish their ballots, and according to The Miami Herald, nearly 21% skipped those lengthy state amendment questions. So not only are voters having to endure long lines, but once in the voting booth, they aren’t fully exercising their rights because they are unprepared or unconcerned.
Let’s just hope this isn’t the case come 2016. Get it together, Florida.
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