Florida closed out the midterm Tuesday night with swift vote results while other states like Arizona, Alaska, California, etc., slowed to a snail’s pace, prompting comparisons to the 2020 election and questions regarding efficiency.
Americans can recall the Bush v. Gore 2000 election when Florida had little to boast about election efficiency as the country waited for weeks between recounts and litigation for a winner to be declared, but 20 years later, that nightmare has been reduced to a distant memory in the Sunshine State. What changed since then? As WPTV political analyst Brian Crowley put it after Trump handily won Florida in 2020, it all comes down to the state’s investment in the right equipment and its counting of mail-in ballots 22 days before the election.
“When you look at what’s going on in some of the other states right now, where there is uncertainty, at least Floridians can put their heads on their pillow and know Florida got it right this time,” Crowley noted at the time.
Ben Kuehne, an election attorney who remembered the 2000 Florida vote debacle, concurred. “Florida invested money in technology that works and works fast,” he said. “Our Constitution says that elections are done at the state level. That is one of the remarkable aspects of our Constitution, so state law matters.”
Tamika Cody of WTSP provided a comprehensive history of how Florida reformed its vote-counting practices to become an example that the rest of the country has not yet caught up to in many respects:
The 2000 election drew attention to Florida’s problematic punch-card ballots, which voters found confusing and difficult to use. Many people voted for too many or too few candidates. Often, pieces of paper were left hanging on ballots and became dubbed “hanging chads.” On others, voters managed to indent but not punch their ballots – leading to a “dimpled chad.” Both scenarios left canvassers trying to determine voters’ intents.
The next year, Florida revised its Voting Systems Standards through the Florida Elections Reform Act of 2001. Three years later, in May 2004, Florida modified its system again to include accessibility requirements for people with disabilities.
In 2020, states such as Pennsylvania waited all the way until Election to open mail-in ballots, which slowed the vote count for several days on end as former President Trump’s lead slowly dwindled until Joe Biden won the state. Up to 4.85 million Florida voters cast their ballots by mail on Election Day 2020 and part of the reason why the country knew the outcome that very Tuesday night stems from the fact that the state had already developed a robust system to process mail-in ballots quickly and efficiently.
“Not only can Floridians track their mail ballots online, but supervisors of elections can begin counting mail votes weeks before Election Day – which isn’t the case in other states,” noted Tamika Cody. “Florida’s two-week early voting period also helped make the process seamless – helping to prevent long lines.”
In California, where mail-in ballots have become an increasingly popular method of voting, ballots can be postmarked by Election Day and “arrive in the voter’s county election office as long as a week later, and even later than that for military ballots,” according to the Sacramento Bee.
Jenna Haynes, Sacramento County public information officer, said California’s snail pace of voting comes down to the thousands of mail-in ballots vastly outsizing in-person voting in some areas. For instance, in Sacramento, only 21,116 people voted on Election Day in-person out of the district’s 864,814 registered voters. Add in the fact that many of those ballots can arrive several days later with no robust system or technology in place to speed the count and you have a recipe for delayed vote tabulation. Multiple California races, such as the much-anticipated Los Angeles mayoral race, will bear this out.
Some states, such as Georgia, have already learned lessons from the 2020 election by passing their own election integrity laws to fix some of the kinks, but multiple states have a long way to go if they hope to achieve the kind of efficiency that Florida has attained.