Learn from Florida — states don’t need weeks to count votes

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Chester County, Pa. election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots for the 2020 general election in the United States at West Chester University, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in West Chester. (Matt Slocum/AP)

Learn from Florida — states don’t need weeks to count votes

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Where were you when the great Bush v. Gore controversy began?

It was 22 years ago that Florida became the butt of the nation’s and the world’s joke because of the worst election debacle in modern history. The vote in Florida had finished very close on election night. Then, a machine recount tightened the margin between George W. Bush and Al Gore further. Then came hand recounts and controversies about undervotes and the means lawful to divine voter intention. Everyone in America learned what the word “chad” means and mastered a new set of adjectives to go with it. “Hanging chads!” “Pregnant chads!”

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More than a month of litigation and counting and a Supreme Court decision later, Bush emerged the victor. And Floridians wisely resolved never to let such a fiasco happen again. They set out to overhaul their election system. And it worked.

Over time, Florida developed a technologically advanced system that has all the advantages and access one could want in an election, but without chads. That is to say, Florida offers voters abundant early voting and absentee voting by mail, turnout is high, and the state uses machines now instead of butterfly ballots. There is no more need to divine voter intention by looking to see whether a chad has been “dimpled.”

Best of all, Florida officials have results on election night. This is thanks mostly to their decision to require that voters request a ballot and to let election workers process the early and mail-in votes — 85% of the Florida vote in 2020 — ahead of election night. This way, unless the race is so close that a recount is justified, it doesn’t take long to know who won.

This year’s election serves as an unfortunate reminder that many states are bizarrely moving in the opposite direction, toward chaos. Not only are they turning Election Day into “voting month,” but some states are also dragging out the process of counting votes for weeks. There’s no reason for this, at least no good one. Florida’s example proves that you can receive 5 million mail ballots, plus a similar number of early votes, yet release accurate and almost complete results on election night. That must come as a shock to voting officials in Washington state and Oregon, which will release their results…well, sometime after Easter, probably.

California is the worst. Not only does it send mail-in ballots to all voters, even if they don’t request one, but it also continues to count ballots received in the mail after Election Day as long as they were postmarked on Election Day. Florida only counts mail-in ballots received by Election Day. So in California, election officials still don’t have all the votes as you read this — so of course they haven’t finished counting them.

It’s 2022. How is it that Western societies have developed such technology and yet the process of counting votes has become so much less efficient than it was in 1950?

This isn’t a Right or Left issue. These kinds of long delays are a choice, not an inevitability, and their results are irritating for people of all political persuasions. Everyone should have a right to vote, but the system should not bend over backward to accommodate those who choose not to exercise their right in a timely manner.

State legislators should look to Florida’s system of tabulating votes and model their own systems after it. There’s no reason states cannot have ample early voting opportunities and mail balloting, yet at the same time produce results in a timely manner on election night.

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