Ensure, in any way possible, that voters aren’t discouraged and turned away.
November’s ballot already looks mighty crowded. Florida has races for U.S. senator, governor and three Cabinet officials. Every ballot could have a congressional race and one or two state legislative races along with several judicial races. Volusia County and Flagler County both have multiple offices open, and major cities, including Deltona and Palm Coast, will be choosing new mayors. Add to that five already-qualified statewide ballot measures and local charter amendments from Volusia County and Palm Coast, and local voters are looking at a ballot that could take quite a while to complete.
That’s a problem, because long ballots often translate into long lines at the polls — as they did in 2008 and 2012, where some voters waited hours to cast their ballot (and some had to leave without voting on Election Day). Voters can opt for mail ballots or early voting, but those who choose to cast votes on Election Day shouldn’t face unreasonable delays.
And the hits keep coming. Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission still has 25 proposals under active consideration. That speaks loudly to the commission’s failure, thus far, to do its work: Many of the surviving proposals are obviously unworthy of being carved into the bedrock of Florida’s government, and should have been weeded out much earlier in the process. If Floridians really want a Department of Veterans Affairs or Office of Counter-Terrorism, or are itching for a mandate to teach civics ► in high school ◄ , they should vote for lawmakers who support those goals. And today’s good idea can run out of steam in years to come (along the lines of the "a high speed ground transportation system" that voters wrote into the constitution in 2000, which never materialized).
When the commission reconvenes to make its final choices, it should quash any measure that doesn’t have the real heft of a constitutional issue.
Local leaders should tread lightly as well. It may be tempting for city and county officials to shirk their decision-making responsibilities by shifting tough issues onto the ballot, but they do their constituents no favors.
Meanwhile, state and local elections officials shouldn’t bet on the Constitution Revision Commission showing the discipline to reject most of the proposals, and gear up for a bulky ballot. That means having enough pollworkers and voting machines to ensure that lines at precincts move briskly. Counties should also consider expanding early voting if a lengthy ballot makes that necessary. The key goal: Ensure that voters aren’t discouraged and turned away.
Local election officials are stressing preparation. Flagler County Elections Supervisor Kaiti Lenhart sent out a comprehensive voters’ guide to all voters that warns people to expect long ballots, and includes a form to request mail ballots. Volusia County Supervisor Lisa Lewis plans to send out mail-ballot requests as well. Voting by mail may avoid "voter fatigue," where voters give up before the end of a lengthy ballot.
Lewis also suggests voters take the time to ensure their registrations are up-to-date. If their signature has changed, now’s the time to update it. And voters should start looking at the various issues and candidates that are already headed for the August primary as well as the November ballot.
As Lewis notes, "It takes a lot of work to become an informed voter." It’s time well-spent, but officials should keep that heavy burden in mind when adding issues to the ballot.