Bring a flashlight, two sandwiches, plenty of water, a fold-out chair and a wide-brimmed hat. Do not attempt this feat if you are elderly, can't stand for long periods of time or have a heart condition. No, you are not climbing Mount Kilimanjaro -- you are going to vote in South Florida.
As a Florida voter and native, I'm once again ashamed at my state. Our voting system is broken on all fronts -- not just the insane early voting lines you've seen in recent days, but also our absentee ballot debacle and Tuesday's voting itself.
By now, you've heard of the trials of voters in South Florida who tried to vote early -- lines 500 people deep, wait times of up to 9 hours, people passing out from dehydration, election offices opening on the fly to accommodate voters only to close just as suddenly when officials realized they were unprepared for the numbers who flooded their offices.
The unreasonably long, early-voting lines and general confusion are not a result of a spike in the number of citizens voting early this year. Indeed, early voting in Florida is down from 2008. Rather, Florida's Republican governor Rick Scott, in a particularly partisan play, cut the number of early-voting days from 14 to 8 days. (Early voting favors Democrats.) Perhaps most disheartening was that the governor eliminated Sunday-voting before the election, a big day for African-American voters who cast votes after Sunday worship.
Given the insanely long lines seen this Saturday in Florida, the DNC (along with the League of Women Voters) sued Governor Scott early Sunday morning in four districts to allow early voting to continue. The DNC won the right to extend early voting by allowing people to cast in-person absentee ballots. The decision was seen a victory for the Obama camp, but in reality it may be too late for many voters.
On the ground here in Palm Beach County, my friends and I have talked to dozens of voters who have been dissuaded by the long lines and confused by the hostile process. Despite the chanting enthusiasts we see on TV, many more voters left polling lines or may have never showed up at all. In the final tallies late Monday night, early voting is actually down by almost ten percent from 2008 -- 2.4 million people voted early this year, 2.6 voted early in 2008.
Early voting is not the only problem here in Florida. Over 33,000 absentee ballots were misprinted in Palm Beach County and are unreadable by tabulation machines. Nearly a hundred folks -- election officials and observers -- have spent over a week from 9AM to 9PM in a warehouse in Riviera Beach, hand duplicating all of these ballots -- an arcane process, which is taking valuable resources away from the field.
Add to that, hundreds of voters in nearby Broward County were not sent absentee ballots in time to cast them -- a bureaucratic mistake by election offices. On both sides of the aisle, volunteers are frantically calling Broward voters to get them to the polls instead. Voters would have had to mail absentee ballots on Friday to make the deadline, but instead will likely have to cast provisional ballots, which are ultimately approved or thrown out by the canvassing board of the county.
Lastly, Florida voters face more stringent voter ID requirements this year than ever before. Florida voters must present one -- maybe two -- types of nine different kinds of ID, which must include both a picture ID, as well as a signature. These new requirements are onerous on urban and more transient populations.
Obama has a great ground game here in Florida. Hundreds of lawyers and thousands of volunteers are here to watch and protect the voting process. They'll be up from dawn way past dusk this Tuesday, to make sure the voting process here in Florida is fair. That said, all this effort may not be enough to counter the myriad of problems South Florida has presented this year. We are keeping our fingers crossed we don't repeat 2000. But in South Florida, you never know.
co-written by Yvonne Cheng