After Florida voters had to spend up to seven hours waiting to vote last Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott (R) and the Republican-legislature have come under heavy criticism for their efforts to suppress the vote. But while much of the focus has been on their unconstitutional restrictions on voter registration and their reductions in early voting, Florida officials note another major factor behind the long lines: 11 lengthy state Constitutional amendments.
Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher told ThinkProgress that the length of the ballot played a huge role in the slow-moving lines on election day and during early voting. The six-page ballot, she noted, took voters “30 to 45 minutes” for voters to read and comprehend. “There were 11 amendments and no one knew what they were,” she observed, noting that one voter took two hours in a poll booth. With such a long ballot, the lines moved slowly. “Our last voter, the Saturday early voting ended, was at 2:30 in the morning,” Bucher said, adding, “It’s atrocious someone had to wait 7 hours.”
The amendments — mostly defeated by the voters — dealt with implementation of Obamacare, restrictions on abortion rights, and allowing public funding for religious institutions. All were placed there by the Republican-controlled Florida legislature and many could have been accomplished by legislative action.
Two Florida state representatives told ThinkProgress they believe the larger than usual number of ballot initiatives were part of an intentional strategy aimed precisely at creating long lines and discouraging citizens from voting.
State Rep. Perry Thurston, the incoming House Democratic Leader, said:
Without a doubt it was intentional. The items in those amendments were not items that needed to be placed in our constitution. Such a long ballot that requires so much reading, you see so many of them were defeated. That, along with the cutting back on the days for early voting, the hours. You could just see it coming and it was gonna be turmoil. … It clearly was [the Republican majority’s] intention to make it more difficult, and to discourage individuals. There is no way people should be waiting six to seven hours, but four to five hours is too long as well. It’s a sad reflection on our state when you require that kind of time to do something that’s not a privilege but a right.
Rep. Mark S. Pafford (D), agreed that the amendments were designed to slow down voting:
Basically what they did was load up the ballot so more people would have to take time either reading through or standing in lines of five to six hours in Palm Beach County— and make a decision after a long wait. I don’t think there’s any question that what occurred was designed to suppress voters in FL. … We had amendments – the ballot was full of things that, during the holidays, you don’t talk about at home. Religion and politics.
Pafford said that he believes that the amendments were designed to bring out voters in conservative counties — and keep them away, in more populous Democratic counties. “I knew what was on the ballot very well,” he added, “and I took probably 10 minutes to make sure I wasn’t putting an arrow somewhere I shouldn’t have put it.”
At least one state senator all-but-admitted that voter suppression was a priority for the Republican majority. Sen. Mike Bennett (R) said last year that voting should be a more difficult process: “I wouldn’t have any problem making it harder. I would want them to vote as badly as I want to vote. I want the people of the state of Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who’s willing to walk 200 miles…This should not be easy.”