Palm Beach County Still Counting Votes In Florida

Once all the votes are counted, President Obama is expected to eke out a narrow victory in the battleground state of Florida. But many are asking why voters had to stand in long lines for hours — on Election Day and in early voting — and also why the vote counting is taking so long.

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One lone county in Florida is still tallying ballots. It's Palm Beach County. Yes, that Palm Beach County, which was central to the presidential recount in 2000.

This time, county officials say misprinted ballots slowed them down. Of course, the outcome of the 2012 race doesn't depend on Florida. Still, after long lines and the prolonged count, there are a lot of questions about what went wrong. From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: The long lines began on the first day of early voting. Throughout the state, but especially in urban areas, people waited three, four hours and longer to cast their ballots. In populous South Florida, in some precincts, Election Day was even worse. The polls closed at 7 p.m., but the last person didn't vote in Miami-Dade County until after 1 a.m.

MAYOR CARLOS GIMENEZ: That was unacceptable to me.

ALLEN: Carlos Gimenez is the mayor of Miami-Dade County.

GIMENEZ: The waits were way too far. And we've got to get some answers as to what happened, why, why wasn't it foreseen?

ALLEN: The problems actually had been foreseen by many. Daniel Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida says in some ways, what happened this election may be even worse than what went wrong with Florida's butterfly ballots and hanging chads in 2000.

DANIEL SMITH: In this election, we had really a design fail, where the state legislature and Governor Scott were complicit in making it more difficult for people to get to the polls. And as a result, we had incredibly long lines, not only during the shortened eight-day period of early voting but also on Election Day.

ALLEN: Last year, Florida's Republican-controlled legislature made several changes to the state's voting laws. Some of the changes were struck down by the courts, but left standing was a legislature's decision to shorten the early voting period from 14 to eight days. In Florida, early voting has been especially popular with Democrats. In 2008, it was credited with helping Barack Obama carry the state.

As early voting got underway last month, the long lines prompted Democrats and voting rights groups to ask Florida Governor Rick Scott to extend early voting, as had been done previously by Governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist. Scott refused. Outside a polling place with lengthy lines in Boca Raton, he was asked whether the legislature's decision to shorten the early voting period was a political move.

GOVERNOR RICK SCOTT: Here's what's political: I want everybody that has a right to vote to go register to vote. I want everybody to get involved in campaigns, and I want everybody to go out and vote. Four point four million people have gotten to vote in our state before Election Day.

ALLEN: Scott maintains Florida, in his words, did the right thing on Election Day. But he says he's asked his Secretary of State Ken Detzner to look for ways to improve the election process. On CNN earlier today, Detzner said he thinks the problem on Election Day weren't due to state restrictions on early voting, but because of a spike in voter enthusiasm.

KEN DETZNER: The turnout was unprecedented. It was a record year of turnout. More people voted before Election Day using absentee ballots and voting early than ever before in our history.

ALLEN: That's not strictly true. More people used absentee ballots this year. But early voting was actually down by some 200,000 ballots. And while the final votes are still being tallied, when taken as a percentage of the overall population, Florida's turnout this election looks like it will be smaller than in 2008. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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