Florida elections chief: Not our job to measure voting wait times

Updated
This Nov. 6, 2012 file photo shows voters lined up in the dark to beat the 7 p.m. deadline to cast their ballots at a polling station in Miami.
This Nov. 6, 2012 file photo shows voters lined up in the dark to beat the 7 p.m. deadline to cast their ballots at a polling station in Miami.
Wilfredo Lee/AP

Florida’s top elections official said Friday the state has no plans to measure where polling place lines are longest, despite the eight-hour wait times that some voters endured last fall.

During testimony before the commission on voting set up by President Obama, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner was asked by Nate Persily, the panel’s director, how the state would know in the future which polling places had experienced the longest wait times.

“I think it’s fair to say the greatest problem was in urban areas,” Detzner responded, before going on to discuss ways to fix the problem.

Persily tried again: How would the state know where the problem was most acute, other than by relying on anecdotal reports from the media and local election supervisors?

“Would you be doing surveys?” Persily asked.

In response, Detzner said there was no need for the state to gather such information, because it was the job of each local supervisor to keep tabs on the issue in his or her county.

“Supervisors know very well where their long lines were, and I anticipate they’ll be making adjustments,” Detzner said. “They are the front lines and it’s their responsibility to know how to meet the demand.”

That hands-off approach appears to be at odds with the commission’s goals, which include bringing the data-driven, customer-service-oriented techniques of the private sector to the task of election administration. Without a comprehensive effort to measure where lines are longest, it may be difficult for the state to effectively address the issue.

Detzner, a Republican who was Gov. Rick Scott’s hand-picked elections chief, earned the ire of voting-rights advocates last year when he conducted a purge of Florida’s voting rolls that used a list so flawed that several local supervisors refused to carry it out.

Last November, Detzner at first portrayed the all-day wait times in some Florida counties as evidence that election officials had done a good job by encouraging high turnout. He later called the lines “unacceptable” and vowed to fix the problem.

The lines, and the intense media coverage they received, were the prime trigger for Obama’s decision to set up the election commission. “We’ve got to fix that,” Obama said of the lines during his election-night victory speech.

Asked Friday morning what he considered to be a long line, Detzner declined to say.

“Anything inconvenient for the voters in waiting longer than what’s appropriate,” he said, without elaborating.

Florida elections chief: Not our job to measure voting wait times

Updated