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Changes to Florida's voting rules leads to confusion at the polls in South Florida

Linda Thigpen.jpg
Verónica Zaragovia/WLRN
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Linda Thigpen, precinct committeewoman for the Democratic Party in Pembroke Pines, helps confused voters who came to the wrong Election Day location in Miramar on Aug. 23, 2022.

Voter after voter showed up at the Miramar Branch Library on Election Day for Florida's primary, stressing out Linda Thigpen. Without speaking to them, she knew each one came to the wrong polling place.

"The troubling thing I see is that they want to exercise their civic duty, but oftentimes they don’t have the information that’s needed," she said.

The library was, in fact, an early voting location, but Thigpen said many voters hadn't realized that they could only vote at their assigned precincts on Election Day itself.

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voting signs Broward.jpg
Verónica Zaragovia/WLRN
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A Broward County sign at left informs voters they can't vote at this early voting library in Miramar, but many overlooked it and came anyways.

It's not like early voting, where voters could go to any polling place in their county.

Thigpen is the precinct committeewoman for the Democratic Party in Pembroke Pines. She's been frustrated,seeing this happen every Election Day.

"They’re in the wrong precinct, and they leave out scurrying, she said. "Oftentimes they don’t make it because they’re in there, 10 minutes to 7:00 p.m. and polls close."

READ MORE: Primary Election Day: as it happened

As she finished helping one voter, another pulled up.

"Yes, who needs help? Can I help you?" Thigpen called out to a driver who lowered her window. "Pull in here please, pull in. Do you have a phone, ma’am?"

Thigpen told each voter to take out their phone and visit the website, browardvotes.gov, to check their assigned precinct for Election Day.

Then a man asked me where to drop his mail-in ballot.

"I’m sorry to interrupt," he said, seeing me record Thigpen. I didn't have the answers for him, but I did know he was at the wrong place after just a few minutes of shadowing Thigpen.

"Gosh, I thought I could drop it off here," the man said.

Linda Thigpen with voter.jpg
Verónica Zaragovia/WLRN
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A Broward County voter showed up to the wrong place to vote on Election Day, so Linda Thigpen hurried to help him within the short window of time before the 7 p.m. deadline on Aug. 23, 2022.

Because the time was so close to 7 p.m. when polls closed, Thigpen told him this place did not have a drop box for his ballot.

"You must go to your precinct," she said. At that point, he had such little time before the deadline, that he would need to rush to his precinct and vote in person after handing over his mail-in ballot to show he was only voting one time.

On Election Day, you can drop off a mail-in ballot at specific locations designated by your county’s supervisor of elections. Before, many drop boxes at early voting sites were available 24 hours a day, but a new Florida law, now, allows voters to deliver their ballots only when elections staffers or police are present.

Polling confusion in Palm Beach County

At Lantana Road Branch Library in Lake Worth Beach on Election Day, I also saw people who wanted to drop off their mail ballots there but couldn’t — and that rule isn’t new.

New state laws did, however, change when and how many ballots people can drop off during early voting.

Joi Howell, who lives in Delray Beach, had been standing outside the polling place, advocating for a school board candidate. She said Florida’s new voting law is too restrictive.

"I think that what the state legislature did and the governor to discourage voting, to make it harder to make it more confusing," Howell said. "So anything you're doing that makes it more confusing, more difficult, those are all things that are anti-democratic."

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Wikine Brutus
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Entrance to the voting precinct at the Lantana Road Branch Library in Lake Worth Beach.

Another reason why voters were showing up in the wrong place is because of redistricting. The Florida Legislature drew new lines after the 2020 Census, which happens every 10 years. As a result, some people live in a different legislative or congressional district than before, and that means a different precinct than the one they may be used to.

READ MORE: Secretary of State Cord Byrd on election integrity and how a new crimes office impacts 2022 voting

"We had a few calls where people said, 'Hey, I've been at this one place for X number of years,' and even though they got a voter card, they didn't really think to look at the new polling location," said Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link. Her office informed voters of their precinct locations by sending out newsletters and by airing ads on TV and the radio.

"But I think you still have people who will act out of habit," Sartory Link said. "So we do know that some people went to the wrong place. That's unfortunate because it certainly is an inconvenience to them, and then they have to go to the right place in order to vote."

Or, she worries, they could end up not voting at all.

By Wilkine Brutus / WLRN

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In order for U.S. citizens to vote in the Nov. 8, 2022 general election, first make sure you're registered to vote.

Once you're registered, you can choose how you want to vote.

To vote by mail, you request a mail-in ballot from your county supervisor of elections. If you like voting in person, going out to vote during the early voting period is the best option because you can vote anywhere in your county. If you prefer to vote on Election Day, you have to go to your assigned precinct.

Click on the Florida Division of Elections website, which will direct you to your county. You put in your information and you can get your assigned precinct that way, or it's written on your voter registration card.

Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care for the station. Verónica has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master's degree in journalism. For many years, Veronica lived out of a suitcase (or two) in New York City, Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, D.C., San Antonio and Austin, where she worked as the statehouse and health care reporter with NPR member station KUT.
Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.