TAMPA – A Washington-based advocacy group released a report Monday highly critical of the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office during the 2012 November election, citing long waits in line and issues over provisional ballots.
The report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund named the state’s best and worst election offices and included Hillsborough County’s office as one of six that performed poorly on Election Day.
Hillsborough Supervisor Craig Latimer called the report flawed and said his efforts were praised by state elections officials who pointed to Hillsborough County as a model.
Nine factors were included in the report, said a news release announcing the report’s conclusions — factors that “reflect voters’ ability to participate in the democratic process.”
The state overall showed “wide disparities in voting accessibility,” the release said.
Specifically, the report criticized Hillsborough County for making a large number of voters cast provisional ballots. Provisional ballots are used if a voter doesn’t produce proper identification or appears at a precinct different from the one where he is registered. The ballots are typically returned to the office and checked to see if a voter is who he says he is. If so, the vote is counted, if not, it is not counted.
The report said 2,100 Hillsborough County provisional ballots — more than twice the state average — were cast in the November 2012 election and all of them were “tossed out.”
Latimer said there was an unusual amount of provisional ballots filled out on Election Day, mainly because of problems with the telecommunications system that prevented immediate confirmation of some voters’ statuses.
So poll workers did indeed ask an unusually large number of people fill out the provisional ballots. But most were later confirmed and counted, Latimer said.
The report does not reflect the whole story, he said.
“We had 5,074 total provisional ballots,” he said, “and 2,965, which is 58.44 percent, were accepted. Of the ones rejected, 977 people just weren’t registered to vote and 665 were at the wrong precinct and refused to go to the right precinct.”
By law, he said, their votes were discounted.
Four hundred, he said, were thrown out for various reasons — voters were ineligible, for example, or registered after the deadline.
The report also criticized Hillsborough County for long lines at polls that in some cases forced precincts to remain open for an hour after they were supposed to close, delaying the counting procedure.
“Hillsborough County had one of the worst average waiting times in the state,” the report said.
Latimer said he has no idea where this comes from.
No precinct remained open to accommodate a long line, he said.
Thanks to the office’s early voting campaign, Latimer said, 62 percent of the voters who cast ballots — 171,000 people — did so before election day in absentee and mail-in ballots.
“We didn’t have any lines on election night,” he said.
He bristled at the report.
“Why didn’t the researchers ever contacted us?” he asked, suggesting the authors “manipulated the data to fit the outcome they wanted.”
The report concluded that voters in different counties have different experiences at the polls, said Tom Perriello, president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund in a news release issued Monday.
“We hope that this report can foster public debate about how Florida officials can address these discrepancies,” Perriello said, “to ensure that Floridians have equal access to the democratic process.”
The report lumped Hillsborough County with Columbia, Putnam, Bay, Alachua and Duval among the state’s 67 counties as “Florida’s Worst Election Offenders.”
St. Johns and Clay counties scored the highest in the report.