Early Voting in Florida

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Yesterday I spent 2 hours voting. Since I live in Florida, The State That Doesn’t Know How to Hold An Election, I figured I had better take advantage of the new early voting. And since Gov. Charlie Crist (who seems remarkably thoughtful for a Republican) had extended the polling hours to 7am to 7pm, I figured I could get my voting done in the afternoon, without having to take more than a few hours off from work.

For those who are wondering what it was like, or who want detailed information about exactly what is going to happen when you vote here in Florida, this post is for you. Most everyone else will find this as dull as a plastic knife on an airplane food tray.

To begin my voting odyssey, I left work at 3:30pm and drove to my local Early Voting Polling Place, the Weston Branch Library. There were about 100 people in line outside of the library. I could tell there were more people waiting inside, but no idea how many or how long the line was. I went to the back of the line and settled down to wait. It was 4:25pm when I took my place in line.

My “line-mates” were a good group of people. By a clearly understood yet unspoken social rule, we did not discuss politics. We related jokes, talked about the local schools, talked about each other’s jobs, and the like. The line moved in lurches and jumps: we quickly figured out that the poll workers were bringing people inside in groups of 20 or 30 at a time, then waiting until that group was done, and letting in the next group.

After about an hour, we were let into the library foyer, where we now queued up in a “Disney” style rope line that switched back on itself several times. A poll worker told us we would wait here, and be let inside the library itself in groups of ten. We were told to use our cell phones or whatnot now, because once inside the library proper, we had to behave as one does inside a library, and shut up.

Another half-hour and my group was inside the library proper. The line formed right next to the Mystery section. The retired flight attendant in my little group of 4 made a crack about how funny it would have been if the line formed in the political books section. This engendered a number of additional cracks up and down the line about Hannity, Coulter, O’Reilly, and Al Franken books. But once again, everyone was careful to just mention the names – not their allegiances to any of them. We were then Shushed by a library staffer.

Two at a time, we presented our IDs and voter registration cards to a pair of workers at computers. My worker asked me to verify my address, checked it against my identification, and then printed out a receipt for me. I moved over to the right, next to an industrial-sized laser printer. I waited for another five minutes or so until my personalized ballot printed out, and the next poll worker took my receipt, checked it, and handed me my ballot. Across from me was another printer with another worker; they were doing two voters at a time, and I’d say it took the printer about one full minute to print out each four page ballot.

I examined the ballot; it was printed on thick paper stock, and looks very much like a standardized test you’d take, such as the SAT. Bar coded information was at the top and bottom; I assumed this was some sort of digitized verification that I was the owner of that ballot. This led me to wonder… since each ballot is printed out individually, and handed directly to the receipt-holder… does that mean my actual ballot can be directly linked to me? I thought balloting was supposed to be anonymous.

Then I was led to the penultimate area, where, screened off from my fellow man, I could fill out my ballot using a black pen. Fill in the ovals completely! I voted for Barack Obama for President, Debbie Wasserman Schultz as my representative, and No on all of the propositions on the ballot, including the onerous and insulting Proposition 2. It took me about five minutes to fill out the ballot in full, making sure all of my ovals were clearly filled.

I noticed that the tables we were using were the same tables that used to hold the electronic voting machines; the machines themselves were gone, and the empty holes filled with plywood. So at least the state is getting nice stands for all that money they paid for faulty electronic voting machines…

The very last step was to take my completed ballot over to another line of poll workers, and feed the ballot myself into a tray scanner. I watched the monitor on the device, feeding each page of my ballot in carefully. As it completed each page, a confirmation message appeared on screen. After all four pages were fed in, I was done.

The man running the scanner applied an “I Voted Early” sticker to my shirt, thanked me for voting, and I walked out the door at 6:30pm, 2 hours and 5 minutes after I got in line. Outside, the line was even longer than it had been when I arrived.

All told, there were about 10 poll workers inside, and another three or four outside managing the line. The process was smooth and efficient. I have no suggestions or even ideas about how they could make it go any faster.

And yet… that line has been the same length since early voting began. And this is just my local office. If we are any indication, turnout for this election is going to be absolutely record breaking. And no matter if my guy wins or not, the more people who vote, the better off we are.

I sure hope Florida doesn’t screw it up again this time. But if they do, don’t blame me – I voted early. And don’t blame the people running the polling places – because they sure seemed to be doing a pretty smooth job. And there won’t be any hanging chads, since these ballots are on paper filled out with pen.

Five more days to go. Yes we can, folks. Yes we can.

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