Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Elections changes coming to Florida, again

Long early voting lines are forcing Florida lawmakers to again rethink the state's elections laws. (Melissa Lyttle | Times)
Long early voting lines are forcing Florida lawmakers to again rethink the state's elections laws. (Melissa Lyttle | Times)

Florida lawmakers appear ready to make changes -- again -- to how the Sunshine State runs its elections.

The House and Senate are considering legislation that would give elections supervisors the flexibility to offer additional hours and days of early voting and allow Floridians who submit absentee ballots an opportunity to correct signature errors.

The moves are in reaction to the November 2012 election, where Florida again was the butt of national jokes.

With elections back in the state spotlight, it seems like a good time for a trip down the Truth-O-Meter lane.

Ignoring the issues for a second, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner pointed out that 2012 was "a record year of turnout. More people voted before Election Day using absentee ballots and voting early than ever before in our history."

Detzner was right that the sheer number of voters was a record, at 8.5 million. Also, he was right that more people "than ever before" voted early or absentee.

But it was not the highest turnout by percentage. At 71 percent, 2012 marked the 12th-highest turnout since 1954. So we rated Detzner’s claim Mostly True.

One of the knocks on Gov. Rick Scott was that he failed to extend early voting hours to try and quell long lines. That prompted criticism from Florida’s former governor, Charlie Crist, who said that even conservative icon and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush "extended early voting" after "long lines."

That turned out to be Mostly False.

In 2002, Bush extended regular voting by two hours because of malfunctioning voting machines -- not early voting. And in 2004, he gave supervisors in a handful of counties more flexibility in starting early voting days after a devastating hurricane. It does not count as an example of Bush extending early voting. He was allowing for greater flexibility.

One of the more interesting claims we saw came from Facebook, where people suggested shenanigans in the Allen West-Patrick Murphy congressional race. (Murphy narrowly won.) During a partial recount of some votes, a pro-West group claimed that the recount in a precinct with seven registered voters somehow showed that 900 people voted.

There was no truth to that conspiracy.

A machine with the label of one precinct (with only seven voters) was actually counting votes from another precinct.  We rated the claim False.

We also saw dueling claims about a proposed election fix from Gov. Scott.

Scott claimed that his proposal would allow "a potential of 168 hours (of early voting), which I think is the most we’ve ever had."

A anti-Scott group, Pink Slip Rick, said Scott’s proposal "only mandates 48 hours of early voting."

Both claims were pretty much on the mark.

Scott was careful to use "potential," so he earned a True, while Pink Slip Rick’s claim came in at Mostly True.

So what’s on the table now?

Democratic Sen. Chris Smith makes the case that not a whole lot will actually change. In an op-ed, Smith wrote that the elections bill "allows persons to correct an absentee ballot if they did not sign it and requires an extra two hours a day for early voting. Everything else in this bill is discretionary."

That’s an oversimplification -- our fact-check spells out why -- and as such, we rated his claim Half True.