Hispanic voters waited longer at the polls last November than any other
ethnic group, a statewide study has concluded, with black voters also
experiencing longer delays than white voters.
The study, by political scientists at Dartmouth and the University of Florida, found that precincts with a greater proportion of Hispanic voters closed later on Nov. 6 than precincts with predominantly white voters. In some cases, blacks also had longer waits than whites but shorter than Hispanics.
The study, by Michael Herron of Dartmouth and Daniel Smith of UF, will be submitted Friday in Miami to a bipartisan election reform commission created by President Barack Obama.
The 10-member commission, created by the president in May, will meet at a day-long session at the University of Miami to hear from Florida elections supervisors and the public about how the government can help avoid delays at the polls in the future. It will be the board's first meeting outside Washington, D.C., where it gathered for the first time last Friday.
The Presidential Commission on Election Administration has been tasked with identifying successful elections procedures and making recommendations for improvement to the president. It will not submit proposals to Congress, though some lawmakers, including Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, have said they would welcome them.
The meeting comes three days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that sought to protect voters, including those in five Florida counties, against racially discriminatory elections laws. A new formula is needed to determine which places might still place some voters at a disadvantage, the court said in its ruling.
"If we need a new criteria, one of the things we could look at is wait times, and whether or not certain racial groups are having longer lines," said Smith, who along with Herron conducted the study for Advancement Project, a left-leaning civil-rights advocacy organization scheduled to testify before the commission Friday.
Some Miami voters waited between five and eight hours to cast ballots last November. A county review later blamed a variety of factors, including an unusually long ballot, fewer early-voting days and ill-prepared precincts.
But the lines were not the same across the county, Herron and Smith found. They reviewed the Election Day closing times of 85 percent of the state's precincts, where more than 92 percent of the 3.7 million Floridians who voted cast their ballots.
They also reviewed wait times at early-voting sites in Miami-Dade, the state's largest and most populous county and the only one to track that data. The study found waits to cast ballots before Election Day in Miami-Dade were longer for Hispanics than any other ethnic group, with black voters also experiencing longer delays than white voters. For both Hispanics and blacks, the waits were especially long the Saturday before Election Day, which was the last day of early voting.
"There were clear racial patterns of long lines in Miami-Dade in early voting as well as Election Day," Smith said.
On average, 73 minutes passed between the 7 p.m. close of the polls and the time when the final voter in line cast his or her ballot in Miami-Dade. In Broward, which has a larger proportion of white voters than other large Florida counties, that average was 25 minutes, according to the study.
Tampa's Hillsborough County, which had been covered by the provision in the Voting Rights Act ruled unconstitutional, also had "unmistakable correlations between the racial and ethnic makeup of the precincts and closing times." The VRA had required certain states and counties -- including Monroe in the Florida Keys -- to obtain prior authorization from the U.S. Department of Justice to change elections laws.
A panel discussion at Monday's hearing will feature Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, whose agency oversees elections, and elections supervisors from six counties: Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Orange, Bay and Okaloosa. Government and political science experts from several universities are also scheduled to deliver presentations.
In the afternoon, the commission will hear public comments. More than two dozen people have signed up to speak, including members of civil-rights advocacy groups and Desiline Victor, the 102-year-old North Miami voter Obama invited to his State of the Union address earlier this year to highlight voting problems. A bill to be named in her honor later died in the Florida Legislature.
The meeting will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Hurricane 100 Room at the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami, 1245 Dauer Dr., Coral Gables. For more information, visit the commission website, supportthevoter.gov.
(c)2013 The Miami Herald
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
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