TALLAHASSEE — Local supervisors of elections came under fire Tuesday as lawmakers began probing what went wrong in the 2012 elections. State officials singled out Lee County Supervisor Sharon Harrington and four others for special scrutiny for their performance.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner told lawmakers he would visit supervisors of elections in Lee, Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties as part of his own inquiry into the lengthy lines and other problems that plagued the November balloting. In many locations, including several precincts in Lee, voters stood in line for several hours waiting to cast ballots, and the state wasn't called for President Barack Obama until several days after the election ended.
Detzner said he would also meet with the Hillsborough County supervisor of elections, whose performance is not under fire.
Speaking to meetings of both the House and Senate ethics and elections committees, Detzner said he didn't want to prejudge what had caused the breakdowns at some polling locations in the state. But he offered a menu of possibilities.
"When you look at underperformance, it could be an administrative issue, it could be an issue about judgment about turnout, could be an issue about locations of the early voting sites, it could be manpower issues, and it could be technology," Detzner said.
In a tearful news conference after the election, Harrington attributed the Lee debacle to inadequate, frequently-jamming scanners — most precincts had one, the same as in 2008 — a lengthy bilingual ballot and more Election Day voters than expected. She vowed to ensure the next election runs smoother.
"It's my goal to purchase additional scanners so this unfortunate situation does not repeat itself," Harrington said the day after Election Day.
Detzner also indicated the length of the ballot, which included several legislatively-authored proposed constitutional amendments, could have caused some of the long waits.
Attention also fell on the number of early voting sites that were open in some areas after those lines also swelled. In Miami-Dade, there 82 locations that could be used for early voting; 20 were. That led to some lawmakers wondering whether Detzner should be given more authority to step in when local supervisors seem to make wrong-headed decisions.
"If you have 83 or 85 sites available and you only open up 20, we might need to look at who's making those decisions and based on what criteria," said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers.
But Ron Labasky, general counsel of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, responded that the association has been pushing for years to be allowed to use a wider variety of sites for early voting. He said that some sites might not be ideal.
"Just because you have a library does not necessarily mean the library is available to use," Labasky said.
Speaking later in the day at the House meeting, though, Detzner said the state should weigh that issue carefully.
"We should find out, are they using all sites that are sufficient and available within their inventory of available sites," he said.
It's not clear what legislation might grow out of the meetings. Sen. Jack Latvala, the St. Petersburg Republican chairing his chamber's committee, brushed off the idea of giving Detzner greater control over local officials.
"I'm not inclined to try to micromanage the supervisor of elections from Tallahassee," Latvala said.
But he did note that governors have suspended supervisors of elections over performance.
"I'm not prepared to say that there's an occasion here where I think that might be merited, but I think that that's a question that ought to be asked in one or two of these cases," Latvala said. "When a county every single election has problems, then you can't blame a new law or you can't blame the Legislature, you have to look within that county."
Asked at one point if he was talking about the infamously troubled efforts of Palm Beach County, Latvala said: "If the shoe fits, Palm Beach County should wear it."