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Report ranks best, worst counties for voting in 2012

A report issued Monday by a liberal-leaning watchdog group ranks the best and worst counties in Florida for voting in the 2012 presidential election. The findings mirrored earlier conclusions by the Advancement Project as well as extensive news coverage of problems at the polls, most notably long lines at early voting sites in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties.

Titled "Florida's Worst Election Offenders," the report was prepared by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and utilized data from the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission. The report emphasized that its data shows that individuals' voting experiences can fluctuate wildly from county to county. "The people of Florida deserve better," the report said in its conclusions.

The paper cited Hillsborough for "poor administration (that) appears to have erroneously forced some of the county’s voters to vote provisionally" in 2012 and noted that the number of provisionals cast was the second-highest percentage of any Florida county and twice the state average. Jacksonville's Duval County led the state in the percentage of provisionals cast in 2012.

An analysis of the 40 most populous counties rankes St. Johns (county seat, St. Augustine) the best overall and Columbia County (Lake City) the worst based on nine different factors including voter registration rates, registration rates for African-Americans and Hispanics, wait times and rates of provisional and absentee ballots both cast and rejected.

The report accused Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington of "incompetent management" because the county faced wait times on Election Day of up to five hours because of too few ballot scanners. In contrast, the report said, adjacent Collier County had purchased extra scanners and its wait times did not exceed eight minutes.

Columbia had the lowest voter turnout (53.5 percent) in 2012 and St. Johns had the highest (83.6). Florida's turnout rate of 63.2 percent in 2012 exceeded the U.S. average of 59 percent for that cycle.

Pinellas County, where a special election for a congressional seat will be held in early 2014, scored high marks for its comparatively low rate of absentee ballots rejected -- a significant finding in a county where elections officials actively promote voting absentee or by mail. Among the 40 largest counties, Pinellas had the 35th lowest rejection rate for absentee ballots in 2012, at 0.26 percent.

-- Steve Bousquet