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How Florida put the 'day' back in Election Day

The state went from the "hanging chads" debacle of 2000 to reporting election results within two hours of polls closing in 2022. A new report from the Public Interest Legal Foundation explains how Florida went from "worst to first."

Published: May 5, 2023 11:31pm

Updated: May 15, 2023 12:41pm

Florida elections have come a long way since the "hanging chad" debacle of 2000. During the 2022 midterms, the state reported the results of all elections within two hours of polls closing, and a new report examines the election law changes that have been credited for the turnaround.

The 2000 presidential election between then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore was decided by the 25 electoral votes from Florida, which didn't announce its results until five weeks after Election Day.

The delay was due in part to difficulties in determining how to count "hanging chads," or loose flaps of paper on the punch-card ballots then in use. After Florida certified Bush as the winner, Democrats sued for a recount, which was ended by a Supreme Court ruling that ensured Bush's election.

In the two decades since, Florida has upgraded its election laws to prevent a repeat of 2000, while other states, such as California and Colorado, are taking days or weeks to announce all of their election results.

Florida tallied all 7,785,277 ballots and announced all election results before 9 p.m. on election night in 2022.

A new report by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) entitled "Worst to First: Why Election Day Still Means Something in Florida" identifies eight Florida election policies that have resulted in faster reporting of results:

  1. early canvassing for absentee ballots;
  2. Election Day delivery deadline for absentee ballots;
  3. voter ID for absentee ballot application;
  4. absentee ballot verification before counting;
  5. paper ballots counted electronically;
  6. pre- and post-election audits;
  7. ban on ranked-choice voting;
  8. using e-pollbooks.

The report recommends reforms for states hoping to duplicate Florida's success in promptly reporting results on Election Day, including: Use e-pollbooks, require that ballots arrive by Election Day, send absentee ballots upon request rather than automatically, and canvass mail ballots prior to Election Day.

While there aren't any other states that exactly match Florida's policies, according to the report, six of the eight policies highlighted in the report are used by Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Montana, and Tennessee. However, similar laws alone don't mean there will be similar outcomes, as "states must have good people and procedures in place for effective execution," the report noted.

The eight policies that PILF report credits for Florida's 

1. Early canvassing for absentee ballots

Counting absentee ballots before Election Day, also called a canvass, allows county supervisors of elections (SOE) to open and count absentee ballots as they come in, as early as 40 days before Election Day, according to the report.

Florida law includes safeguards to prevent the publication of the results of absentee ballots before Election Day, making it a third-degree felony for "anyone in a county supervisor of elections office" to reveal them prematurely. Observers are allowed to watch the pre-Election Day canvass process. Additionally, SOEs run for election every four years when there are presidential elections, and the governor may "suspend a county SOE for cause."

Advance canvassing is "relatively rare across the country," according to the report, nine other states had systems similar to Florida's that were available for use during the 2022 midterms.

PILF President J. Christian Adams told Just the News on Wednesday that while he had previously opposed pre-Election Day canvassing because he believed it could be used as a "tool to manipulate" elections by influencing voters' decisions on casting their ballots, the safeguards that Florida has installed "get rid of shenanigans."

2. Election Day delivery deadline for absentee ballots

There are 29 other states that have similar laws, but 14 others require absentee ballots only to be postmarked by Election Day, allowing "delivery up to at least four-plus days after that day," according to the report. The longest delivery window following the election is 14 days, which both Illinois and Utah have.

3. Voter ID for absentee ballot application

Florida requires voters to fill out an application to vote absentee and provide numbers from their state driver's license, ID card, or the last four digits of their Social Security number. The ID numbers are checked against Florida voting records to ensure they match.

Also, "absentee ballot subscribers" must "renew their statuses every two years, down from four" and "have the option to request an absentee ballot for a single election," according to the report. There are 19 other states that had similar systems for the 2022 midterms.

4. Absentee ballot verification before counting ballots

Signature matching is required for absentee ballots, and voter's contact information is requested in case the ballot needs to be cured. Last year, 34 states had policies that were either similar to or even stricter than Florida's, like notarized ballots or ID requirements.

Next year, a law will take effect in Florida that requires that ballot ID numbers provided in absentee ballot returns be identical to those in the absentee ballot request application. Arkansas, Georgia, Minnesota, and Ohio are the only states that require voter ID for mail ballots.

5. Paper ballots counted electronically

Last year, 13 other states had similar voting systems. Adams told Just the News that just because places like Maricopa County, Ariz., had issues with ballot tabulation machines last year doesn't mean that jurisdictions should return to paper ballots and hand counting but that problems should be resolved. He added that humans are more prone to making mistakes in counting votes or deliberately changing vote tallies than machines.

6. Pre- and post-election audits

Florida's policy includes logic and accuracy testing of voting machines before elections and audits following elections.

Following the 2020 general election, "all 67 counties conducted audits," according to the report. Counties are given "a choice between re-checking two percent of precincts within a single race, or, a review of each race occurring in at least 20 percent of precincts chosen randomly."

There are 41 states that require post-election audits.

7. Ban on ranked-choice voting

The rationale for the ban is that the ranked-choice system confuses voters when they have to rank their candidate preferences for each race, leading to more time voting at polling places and more time tabulating after the election. Tennessee is the only other state that has banned ranked-choice voting, and 30 states are silent on it.

Ranked-choice voting delayed results in Alaska and Maine last year.

8. Using e-pollbooks

E-pollbooks can only be used in states that require voter ID, Adams noted. Using e-pollbooks reduces check-in times at voting places, which allows the voting process to move more quickly. There are 41 states that allow or do not ban e-pollbooks.

"After the debacle of 2000, Florida has transformed its election system to one of the best in the country," said Adams. "Americans deserve to go to bed on Election Night knowing who won. The month's long wait for election results leads to uncertainty and distrust in our election process. States must implement these crucial policies, such as requiring mail ballots to arrive by Election Day, to restore the 'day' in Election Day."

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