Democrats reach settlement in Florida early-voting lawsuit

Hours-long lines at early-voting locations in three Florida counties this weekend prevented some people from voting, Democratic lawyers said. But they've struck a compromise with the counties.

Joe Skipper/Reuters
Long lines of voters are seen at the Supervisor of Elections office in West Palm Beach, Fla., Sunday.

Lawyers for the Florida Democratic Party settled a lawsuit on Monday filed against election supervisors in three south Florida counties after the officials agreed to allow voters to cast in-person absentee ballots in their offices throughout Election Day.

The settlement came after a flurry of legal motions on Sunday and Monday by Democratic Party lawyers who charged that early voting in Florida had resulted in long, burdensome lines and a growing sense of frustration among voters.

After the infamous recount in the 2000 presidential election, Florida earned an international reputation as ground-zero for election foul-ups. Video footage of long lines of haggard, would-be voters outside a Miami-Dade elections office over the weekend seemed to reignite the infamy.

Similar scenes were playing out across south Florida, where elections supervisors failed to match the number of voting machines with heavy early voter turnout. The result: long lines.

In a complaint filed early Sunday, the lawyers asked a federal judge to order the supervisors of elections in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties to provide a safety-valve for frustrated voters. They wanted the elections officials to allow in-person absentee ballot voting at their offices through Election Day on Nov. 6.

The supervisors of elections agreed in three stipulations filed in federal court. Two of the supervisors said they were already permitting such in-person absentee voting. The third agreed to do so.

Under Florida law, early voting was set to take place for eight days from Saturday, Oct. 27, to Saturday, Nov. 3.

Voters waited in line between six and eight hours Saturday afternoon and night at a library in Lake Worth, with the last ballot cast at 2:50 a.m. Sunday morning, according to an affidavit attached to the lawsuit.

Early voting was scheduled to end Saturday at 7 p.m., but election workers are instructed to allow anyone waiting on line at that time to remain until they vote.

“The voting facilities within these counties were plainly inadequate to meet the needs of county electors seeking to exercise their right to right to vote,” the complaint said.

“The extraordinarily long lines deterred or prevented voters from waiting to vote,” the suit said. “Some voters left the polling sites upon learning of the expected wait, others refused to line up altogether.”

The agreement means that voters in the three counties of southeast Florida will have two options for voting on Tuesday, Nov. 6. They can either go to their designated precinct and cast a regular ballot, or they can go to the supervisor of elections office, ask for an absentee ballot, complete it, and immediately turn it in.

The in-person absentee ballot service offers an alternative for voters should precinct lines grow too long on Tuesday.

Preliminary data show that 248,534 voters cast early ballots in Broward County, while 235,733 voted early in Miami-Dade County, and 105,981 voted in Palm Beach County.

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