Letter to the editor:
Lee County's Supervisor of Elections Harrington's so-called explanations at the GPICA meeting are pure self-serving bunkum. Nor were Lee County Commissioner Manning's remarks any closer to the point. Whether she is incompetent or worse, I leave to the readers. Believe me, when I say that it pains me to raise such questions-public service whether in the civil service or in an elected office should be respected and exalted whenever possible. Without this respect and the good people it might attract, we cannot expect good results. But this fiasco last November was towering in its causes and impacts on the democratic process.
I was an official poll watcher for the Democratic Party and during the early vote I observed the voting process for several complete days from 7 a.m. to the 7 p.m. closing and beyond. Each day the lines quickly developed into long three to four-hour queues and maintained their length until closing at 7 p.m. At that time and each evening there were enough people in line to take another three to five hours longer. I served at the Cape Coral offices of Harrington's measly five polling places in the whole of Lee County. Here, polling was confined to a small room about 20 feet wide and 75 feet long. Given all the equipment and workers, there was insufficient room for more than 20 to 30 voters either in the act of registering, filling out ballots or scanning them into the ballot counters. The rest were forced to stand outside where, fortunately, there was a covered walk that protected about 100 of the voters from the weather. I also observed voting all day at a Cape Coral poll on Santa Barbara on Election Day itself-there was no cover for similar numbers standing in line although it rained heavily that day. Harrington's office pled poverty in explaining why they didn't have polls in larger protected spaces-and this plea of poverty despite her returning over $1 million in funds to the state elections office! Such stewardship but to what end?
While the ballot was indeed long, its verbiage excessive and unintelligible to all but lawyers, and in English and Spanish, simple tests beforehand would have shown that each four-page ballot required more than one minute per voter to complete one scan. This rate was observed by me for every scanner I observed-early voting, Election Day, and where I myself voted on Pine Island. Each scanner could scan no more than 600 or so voters during the 12-hour voting day-assuming no breakdowns. Harrington's claim that there was neither a way to anticipate the problems nor to marshal sufficient people or machinery to handle the vote in a reasonable fashion is patently false. The Cape Coral poll during the early vote, which I observed, had multiple machines but nowhere near enough to speed up the process. Only 5 polls were open in all of Lee County? But on Election Day itself, there were 125 polling places-so where were all these other scanners hidden during the early voting and why weren't these used??!! I was given several unsatisfying "reasons." She had seven more days of early voting and Election Day itself, to do something and failed to act! Was this due to incompetence or design?
And importantly, no other task in the voting process limited through-put. Not registration, not filling out the ballot despite its great length. Only the scanner was limiting.
"Whatever the voter decides" is what should determine "reasonable" waiting times. Needless to say, three to five hours doesn't even come close. Thus, after eight 12-hour days of early voting with three to five-hour waits the Lee County norm, literally thousands were avoidably being effectively "turned away." And so too on Election Day. The fact is, few of us can afford to spend all this time on a task that shouldn't take more than a half hour-by the way, a half hour is pretty near the national average waiting time to vote? Thus, a very large number of voters were "turned away" just effectively as any burning KKK cross, poll-tax or literacy test. And some of us have the temerity to travel the world judging the fairness of other nation's elections. I'm sure their hearts are in the right place but recall the adage: physician, heal thyself!
A few simple estimates: On Election Day Lee County had 125 polling places. Most polling places I'm told had a three-hour wait at 7 p.m. If there were probably two scanners at each, about 120 voters could then vote each hour. Thus, there might have been about 360 people in line. Yet, the polls closed much earlier than expected. In other words, 180 people went home without voting. Did they return another day? We will never know-conveniently, Harrington's office doesn't bother to collect such information. But if these voters didn't try again, (125 polls) x (180 people per poll going home or to work without voting) = 22,500 voters disenfranchised in Lee County alone. This is probably a low estimate because many must have given up while the polls were open during the day. How could it be otherwise? If 40,000 voters were unable to vote on one visit and unwilling or unable to try again, disenfranchisment approached 10 percent.
Looking for more evidence of a special "situation" occurring in Lee County? Neither Charlotte nor Collier to the north or south of us had anything similar to Lee County problems!
Another anecdote. Each evening at 7 p.m. at the Cape Coral early voting poll site, there were at least three hours "worth" of people waiting to vote. In this crowd were many with families including toddlers. Why were they there? To make their voice heard of course. Why didn't they come earlier? Because they work-both mom and dad for the most part. So with three hours of voters in line, and anyone there before 7 p.m. allowed by law to vote, what time do you think the polls were able to close?? At Harrington's Cape Coral office, the polls closed well before expected. But wait, why didn't the polls stay open till 10 p.m. or beyond? Because dear reader, they - the voters - actually had other things to do-things that had to be done-like feed the kids, or get them to bed, or perhaps go to work.
Thus the question must be asked. And pursued to wherever it leads. How many folks were disenfranchised-on purpose or through the towering incompetence of Sharon Harrington and her staff?
I finish with one last anecdote. Each day during the early vote and on Election Day itself, I would check the number of people in the line (thus, the time it would take them to vote) and report to Harrington's staff. I was astounded and dismayed each time by their unbelievable responses. To paraphrase their arrogant and ignorant reply: "Well!," one clerk flushed and huffed, "After all, its their choice." Like I was implying the waits were her fault? And, of course, she was absolutely right-I was implying exactly that. I reported many times and each time she got visibly madder that I should continue to bring waiting time to her attention. But most important, no one took any action to change the situation. Somehow, the process once started had turned to stone.
So, too, yes, she was also correct in another fundamental way: it is our "choice" to take the necessary time and study to do it responsibly. For this is what we at least claim is what democracy requires. Yet here is an elected civil-service supervisor, who bears the responsibility to provide a voting process that make this vote possible, reasonably convenient, and an accurate measure of our wishes, apparently realizing neither what her job entails, nor the necessity that she and her staff be the servants and not the other way around. This is the attitude displayed by Harrington at the GPICA by raising all sorts of red-herrings to account for her profound failure.
Given her "explanations" and my set of data and experiences that portray it otherwise, can the voters of Lee County really expect the problems to be "nipped in the bud?"
No deception is as effective as self-deception.