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Carl Hiaasen
Again, Fla.’s the national punch line
Article published on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012
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Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald.
The bad news is that Florida screwed up another big election.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter this time.

By now, we Floridians have stoically accepted our laughingstock role in the Electoral College. To comedy writers, we’re the gift that keeps on giving. What would Jon Stewart and David Letterman do without us?

We are the Joke State.

And, by a stroke of good fortune, it’s much easier to smile today than it was 12 years ago.

Gov. Rick Scott should send a bushel of oranges to every voter in Ohio as thanks for getting Florida off the hook, and sparing the nation from another Bush v. Gore debacle.

The 2012 presidential race was basically over Nov. 6 when precincts in Cleveland and other key areas began reporting. President Obama’s victory was announced shortly after 11 p.m., while many Miami voters were still waiting in long lines.

To their honor, lots of them stayed and voted anyway.

On Nov. 7, Floridians awoke to learn that thousands of ballots remained uncounted in Miami-Dade and several other counties. As the sorting process dragged into Thursday, we all began hearing from friends and relatives living in normal places where elections are conducted without scandal or farce.

Whether it was a text, email or phone call, the gist of the inquiry was the same:

What is wrong with your state?

CBS asked me the same question, and all I could say was, “It’s a freak show.”

Yes, Florida’s ballot was ridiculously long, stacked with dense constitutional amendments.

Yes, exceptionally long poll lines were made worse by the Legislature’s decision to cut the early-voting period from 14 days to eight days. It was one of several Republican strategies to stifle turnout in the cities, and it backfired.

And yes, Gov. Scott could have made the election go smoother if he hadn’t refused to extend polling hours for early voting. However, there was scant chance of the governor lifting a finger to help urban Hispanics or African-Americans cast ballots, because they often vote Democrat.

Adding to those factors last week were the same demons that helped send the 2000 presidential contest to the Supreme Court – random bungling, lack of preparation and free-floating confusion.

Chads or no chads, Florida simply isn’t equipped to run a major election. We’re in way over our heads, and we should admit it.

Mixed among all the smart, hard-working people in county election offices are a few witless boobs, some of them in supervisory positions. All it takes is one to gum up the works.

While Miami-Dade is no stranger to treachery in its elections, the fiasco is more likely the result of unpreparedness. Poll workers were swamped with last-minute absentee ballots from voters who got weary of standing in line.

Once more Florida found itself in the humiliating position of being the only state in the union that couldn’t get its act together and add up the votes of its citizens on time.

By midnight Nov. 6, every other state on the electoral map was blue or red. We were the only blank one on the board, and stayed that way late into the week.

This time, all of America wasn’t anxiously waiting. It was chuckling and shaking its head.

We can’t count on Ohio or any of the swing states to bail us out again in 2016, so what are our options?

In case you were wondering, the U.S. Constitution makes no allowance for a state to exempt itself from presidential elections in order to avoid national ridicule. Nor is there any legal mechanism by which Florida’s 11 million registered voters might have their ballots shipped somewhere safe to be counted – say, Kansas.

Maybe we can just hold our heads up high and try again, bracing for the inevitable screw-up and the snarky one-liners to follow.

If the next presidential campaign proves as exhausting and dispiriting as this one, the country will sorely need a laugh or two when it’s over. Perhaps that is Florida’s true electoral destiny – to be the comic relief, the perpetual punch line.

It’s way less painful than being the decider.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132.
Article published on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012
Copyright © Tampa Bay Newspapers: All rights reserved.
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