If recent history is any guidance, Floridians stand a decent chance of going to bed Tuesday night not knowing which presidential candidate won their state; they may even retire Wednesday and Thursday nights in the same condition.
Results haven’t been determined on election night in Florida in half of the presidential races since 2000.
Four years ago, President Obama wasn’t declared the winner until four days after Election Day, but luckily for the nation, it didn’t matter. In 2000, the winner in Florida — and for that matter, the nation — wasn’t known until more than a month later after recounts, court challenges and finally a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We should change the name from the Sunshine State to the Always-Close-Election State,” Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine joked last week during a stop along Florida’s Space Coast.
Here’s a look at why elections are often too close for comfort in Florida, and some recent changes that may help Florida shed its reputation for protracted election results.
When it comes to politics, Florida is pretty evenly divided.
About 37 percent of Florida voters are Democrats, about 35 percent are Republicans and just under one-quarter have no party affiliation.
Culturally, the state divides north and south, with Interstate 4 as the boundary. The northern part of Florida is a conservative, Southern state, while the southern half of Florida is a mix of transplants from primarily liberal-leaning Northeast states and Latinos who have made South Florida an economic and social hub of Latin America.
The number of Latino registered voters has expanded since the last presidential election, but it’s too early to conclusively say what effect that will have on this year’s race.
No recent presidential election is more infamous than 2000s, and Florida was to blame. Election night results were too close to call. The razor-thin margin triggered a machine recount, which shined a spotlight on confusingly designed ballots in some counties, particularly Palm Beach County’s “butterfly ballot.” Al Gore‘s campaign asked for hand recounts in four counties. A series of legal challenges followed, and the legal battle made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ordered the recounts stopped. George Bush won by a 537-vote margin a month after the election.
Because of fewer early voting days in 2012, citizens cast more absentee ballots and came to the polls en masse on Election Day. In South Florida, some voters waited a half-dozen hours to cast votes, and there was a statewide average wait time of 39 minutes, according to a study by Harvard and MIT researchers. Election officials also blamed an extra-long ballot in places like Miami-Dade County for slowing down voting. The large number of absentee ballots required more time for counting, and Obama wasn’t declared the winner until the Saturday after Election Day.
Changes have been made to prevent the problems of the past.
Many Florida counties purchased new voting machines after the 2000 meltdown, though a decade and a half later, those machines may be getting long in the tooth.
More recently, counties are now required to upload all early voting and mail-in ballots to their systems the night before Election Day. They must then send those early voting and mail-in ballot results to the Florida Department of State within a half-hour of polls closing. That means millions of votes will already be counted by 7:30 p.m. election night, and close to half of all registered voters in Florida are expected to have cast ballots before Tuesday.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.