TALLAHASSEE — Florida election officials said more flexibility with early voting and shorter ballots are key to ensure the polling site problems of 2012 aren't repeated in future elections.
Nine supervisors of elections from across the state — including Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington — testified Monday before the state Senate Ethics and Elections Committee to explain what they think went wrong this past election cycle, and how to fix it.
"It wasn't just one faction or another," Harrington said. "It was a combination of different things. I think ... long lines predicated by the long ballot, which could have affected turnout."
The Republican-controlled state Legislature passed a law in 2011 that reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to eight. That change, paired with a lengthy ballot and high voter turnout, has been blamed for long lines at the polls on Election Day.
Thousands of Florida voters waited for hours to cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election. Opponents of the 2011 law said those lines could have been reduced had Gov. Rick Scott extended the number of days Floridians could vote before Election Day.
Lee County had five locations — four elections office sites and one library — open for early voting. Early voting locations, under current law, can be at any elections office, municipal office or library.
While the county had fewer than the number of available locations allowed, Harrington told members of the Senate committee that many of the available sites weren't equipped to handle the number of voters that would have flooded the locations.
But even if the county could branch out into other arenas — Harrington pointed to the Harborside Event Center in Fort Myers and a community center in south Lee County as possible early voting locations — she said her office doesn't necessarily have the resources to expand early voting operations.
"It will take additional funding to buy additional equipment," she said.
While Harrington said more days could be beneficial in the future, she joined the state's other election officials in saying that they don't want an extended early voting period to be mandated. Instead, they said they want the discretion to add more days if the election warrants it.
"The more discretion the better," said David Stafford, Escambia County's supervisor of elections. "All elections are not equal."
But election officials said while they could use more time and discretion, there's something they could use a lot less of — words.
Election officials urged the state to adopt the same maximum 75-word ballot summary that citizens groups are held to when they petition to put proposed amendments on the ballot.
Mark Ertel, Seminole County's supervisor of elections, said "every single" supervisor of elections agrees that "amendments need to be 15 word titles and 75 words in the body."
"If we can elect the president of the United States solely on his or her name, we can vote on amendments with 75 words," he said.
State legislators have said they plan to address election reform during the 2013 legislative session. Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said he would take all of the elections officials' comments into consideration as the committee prepares a bill for consideration.
"We have the same goal of fair, honest, streamlined elections for our people so they can vote," he said. "We're not here to place blame on the supervisors or the Legislature for what happened. We're just here to find the facts."
Harrington and the other eight supervisors are expected to testify today in front of the state House Ethics and Elections subcommittee.
__ The Associated Press contributed to this report.