Voting lines of more than six hours during the November 2012 election likely deterred hundreds of thousands of Florida voters from casting a ballot, according to a new academic analysis of data compiled by the Orlando Sentinel. The analysis by Ohio State University Professor Theodore Allen finds that at least 201,000 people in 25 of the largest Florida counties “likely gave up in frustration” because of longer lines – and Allens calls that a conservative estimate:
“My gut is telling me that the real number [of voters] deterred is likely higher,” Allen said. “You make people wait longer, they are less likely to vote.” […]
Said Jennifer Bitz, who said she waited more than five hours to vote at her Cape Coral precinct, “I must have seen 15 people, at least, just give up and leave off the line. I was absolutely livid. People [in line] were saying it was some sort of conspiracy.”
Lee County, where she lives, ranked worst in the Sentinel analysis. Its last precinct didn’t close until 2:54 a.m. Wednesday — nearly eight hours late. In all, 54 percent of the county’s voters were in precincts that stayed open past 8:30 p.m — and half, or 27 percent, voted in precincts still open at 10 p.m.
After Gov. Rick Scott slashed early voting days from 14 to eight and pushed through other voter suppression initiatives, several top Republicans admitted the purpose of the election law changes was to keep Democrats from the polls. To some extent, it had the desired effect. Although the laws did not prevent Obama from winning Florida’s electoral votes, Allen’s analysis found that those deterred by long lines would have voted for Obama by a margin of 15,000 votes. This conclusion matches another earlier study by Allen of just central Florida voters, which found that long lines cost Obama an 11,000-vote margin and likely deterred some 49,000 voters in just that region.
While Scott had initially defended his commitment to slashing early voting, he about-faced in the wake of a plunging post-election approval rating. Scott is now publicly supporting an expansion to the early voting days he cut, in addition to other measures intended to reduce the suppression he helped perpetuate.