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A Solution for Long Lines: 52 Pickup?

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[Image courtesy of atothejay]

I've written before about reprecincting - the process of assigning voters to new precincts, usually post-redistricting - and covered the potential headaches that it can create for election officials and voters alike.

But in South Florida, election officials are looking to reprecincting in part to help alleviate the long lines that plagued voters there during the 2012 election. The Miami Herald has more:

Broward and Miami-Dade elections officials are reorganizing hundreds of voting precincts with the goal of reducing the long lines of voters that plagued last November's presidential elections and embarrassed the state.

In Broward, Brenda Snipes, the county supervisor of elections, started the process in June, aiming to complete the work by September -- more than a year in advance of the 2014 gubernatorial election.

In Miami-Dade, the county's elections office expects to present a new precinct plan to county commissioners in early 2014, spokeswoman Christina White said. In Broward, Snipes is an elected officer, so county commissioners don't have to approve her plan and she has no immediate plans for public input.

Miami-Dade had planned on reorganizing its precincts before the 2012 election, but delayed it out of a concern that voters assigned to new precincts would be confused on a presidential election day. Instead, voters at many precincts stood in line for several hours to wait to vote.

Both counties, which have more than 1 million voters each, have about 800 precincts. Some are combined in the same location.

The Miami Herald asked to interview Snipes but was told she was out of the office this week. Her spokeswoman, Mary Cooney, said the office's main goal is to find a solution for the large precincts and possibly combine small ones, "but no ranges have been targeted yet."

Miami-Dade aims to have a 2,500-voter per precinct limit. In 2012, about 19 percent of Miami-Dade county's precincts exceeded that number with the largest -- South Kendall Community Church in Country Walk -- at 8,303.

Broward has about two dozen precincts with more than 3,000 voters. Its most crowded precincts are located in the western part of the county. Coupled with the lengthy ballot and other factors, the overflowing precincts created some long lines in November even though a large portion of voters now vote by absentee or early voting rather than on election day.

As with everything else, reprecincting is easier said than done:

The process of re-drawing precincts and redistributing voters isn't easy: It involves scrutinizing voter registration and turnout statistics in hundreds of precincts with the goal of reducing voter lines.

Tens of thousands of voters in Broward and Miami-Dade could be assigned to vote at a different precinct location than in the past. However, voters remain in their same districts and the review process won't change who represents voters in Congress, the Legislature or local offices ...

It's a common practice for elections offices to redraw precincts after redistricting. A thorough effort to redraw precincts in both counties was done in 2002. Since then, the number of registered voters has grown by more than 200,000 in Broward.

Snipes' office has no plans to collect new public input for the precincting process although it can draw on feedback it heard from voters and various groups and committees in the aftermath of the election. Miami-Dade plans multiple public hearings, though none have been scheduled.

And as always, money will be an issue - both to play 52 pickup and deal with the aftermath:

In Snipes' budget request to the county commission in May, she asked for money to hire a new GIS mapping specialist and $16 million for equipment to purchase new ballot scanners, precinct modems, voting booths and other equipment for election day or early voting sites. It's unclear if commissioners will grant her full request when they vote on the budget in September but some have questioned it.

"Everyone wants more $$," tweeted Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter during a May budget workshop. "Yes things are getting better, but not that better and not that fast."

In an interview, Commissioner Marty Kiar questioned whether Snipes will be able to add more precincts if the county doesn't grant her budget request for more equipment.

Such is the dilemma the Florida counties face: do nothing, and risk more overcrowding at the polls; do something, and face the prospect of voter confusion and resource challenges. It's not surprising, then, that fellow Florida supervisor (and state association president), Polk County's Lori Edwards, refers to re-precincting as a "necessary evil."

As the process continues, we'll be able to see how "evil" the process turns out to be and whether or not it was actually "necessary" - or effective - in reducing the long lines that earned headlines for south Florida last November.

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