By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Florida voters are at the center of a close presidential election. But we also face a historically long ballot on Election Day, Nov. 6.
That could mean long lines — lines longer than ever.
While election officials throughout Florida are working hard to make sure everyone who wants to vote has the opportunity, long lines will increase the likelihood of problems at the polls.
Lee Rowland, an expert on voting laws and legal counsel to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said voters in Florida should know their rights before they report to polling stations on Election Day.
Most important, Rowland said, Florida voters need to know that long lines cannot keep them from the polls. Under Florida law, voters who get in line at the polling station before it closes — even if at the last minute — must be allowed to vote.
“As long as you are in line by the time the polls close, you are legally entitled to vote,” Rowland said. “So, although the polls will stop accepting new folks into line at 7 p.m., when the polls close, if you are there by seven, you get to vote, full stop. Those polls stay open until everybody who was in line by the time the polls close gets to cast a ballot.”
This year, due to changes in the state voting law, Florida voters who moved to a different county may face resistance at the polls. For the first time in Florida, voters will have to cast a provisional ballot if they moved from one county to another and did not update their address with election officials.
“The best thing that a Florida voter can do to prevent a provisional ballot in the 2012 election is to call or fax their supervisor of elections in their new county to make sure their address is updated before they go to the polls,” she said.
The Americans Civil Liberties Union of Florida has also encouraged voters to stand up for their right to vote if someone challenges their ability to cast a ballot.
“People who believe you’re trying to vote illegally can challenge your right to vote,” a Florida ACLU voter guide says.
“If this happens, insist on your right to vote a regular ballot and ask for a copy of the challenge,” the voter guide continues. “If an election official says you cannot vote a regular ballot, you have the right to cast a provisional ballot. Your ballot will count only if election officials determine after the election that you were eligible to vote and that you voted at the right polling place.”
Florida voters who encounter problems at the polls can call for assistance in English at 1-866-OUR-VOTE, or 1-866-687-8683, which is administered by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Spanish-speaking voters may call 1-888-Ve-Y-Vota, or 1-888-839-8682, which is administered by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund.