Florida’s lengthy ballot could cause serious problems

November 5, 2012

A Palm Beach County elections worker hand-copies an absentee ballot at the agency's warehouse in Riviera Beach, Fla. (Joe Skipper -- Reuters)

Florida might be the largest swing state on the presidential ticket, but voters heading to the polls Tuesday in the Sunshine State have a long list of decisions to make. A long, long list.

The ballot for Florida voters this year stretches six long, wordy pages. There are 12 candidates for president alone, including comedian Roseanne Barr and her running mate, activist Cindy Sheehan, representing the Peace and Freedom Party.

There are races for school board members and representatives to soil and water conservation districts. There are yes-or-no questions about whether to retain three Florida Supreme Court justices for another six-year term.

And, of course, there are nearly a dozen proposed amendments to the state’s constitution, covering everything from property taxes to state funding of abortions to whether lawmakers should have the power to spend tax dollars on religious schools. The longest proposed amendment is 664 words, and nearly all of them, the Palm Beach Post wrote, “contain so much legalese even the most educated voter might be confused. What were lawmakers thinking?”

But the worries here go beyond the possibility of perplexed voters. The lengthy ballots already exacerbated the long early voter lines and general chaos at some precincts in recent days. And if voters flocking to the polls on Tuesday actually take time to read massive ballot before them, as they have every right to do, it could be a long night.

“This is the longest ballot I can remember,” Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark told the Tampa Bay Times recently. “The voter who sees this ballot the first time may need smelling salts.”

Brady Dennis is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on food and drug issues.
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Philip Rucker | November 5, 2012