SPOKESMAN: We're ready. ( Cheering )
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Shortly after 7:00 AM, there were cheers at election headquarters in south Florida's Broward County. A flash on the electronic screen showed that every one of the county's 769 precincts were up and operating. ( Cheers and applause )
It was a far cry from two months ago, when problems plagued the Florida primary election. Some precincts opened late, some poll workers weren't properly trained, and in Miami-Dade County, hundreds of residents couldn't vote at all when the machines went down for hours. But this time, things were different. Officials in both Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, which make up a huge chunk of the state's voters, were determined not to have a repeat of the primary-- even more important, not to have a repeat of the Presidential election of 2000, and the notorious hanging chad.
SPOKESPERSON: This is very simple. It's a touch screen. When the red light flashes, press vote. Any questions?
SPOKESPERSON: Okay. Thank you.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Thousands of precinct workers all over south Florida went through many hours of training so they could show voters how to use the new electronic touch-screen voting machines that were installed in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. Broward alone spent $22 million.
SPOKESMAN: All deputies on scene and the SRO units on scene. It's an unfounded call.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Both counties also set up sophisticated command centers like this one to troubleshoot problems in the precincts.
SPOKESMAN: She was trying to vote and it wasn't. So you'll have to recalibrate.
SPOKESMAN: If there are any problems, you are to call in to the headquarters.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Organizations like the NAACP trained people to serve as monitors at precincts, hoping to avoid instances in the past were black voters were turned away at the polls.
SPOKESPERSON: I'm from the NAACP. Did you have any problems?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: There were at least three monitors in most precincts, and the Justice Department in Washington sent representatives to observe. By midmorning, Miami Mayor Alex Penelas said things were going well.
MAYOR ALEX PENELAS, Miami: I'm delighted to be standing here today telling not only the people of Miami/Dade County but the people of the world that the voting is going well in Miami/Dade County, our precincts open on time at 7:00 AM. But we've had some minor glitches. At one precinct we had to bring in paper ballots for about three hours. No one was turned away. Everyone had an opportunity to vote.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: It wasn't just public officials who gave a sigh of relief. At this north Miami-Dade precinct, voters were happy to see things, for once, working.
GIA BRANNAN: It went very well. It was very simple especially when they pass out the sample ballot and you were, you know, aware of everything. That you were voting for when you went in so it made it faster.
AMY GAYAO: They only had two or three of the voting booths open. This time they had rows and rows.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Part of the strategy this time was to get the voting machines into precincts early so that if problems came up, they could be fixed before the polls opened. And there were problems. Bill Simpson was in charge of getting the machines up and running in this north Miami-Dade precinct. A part was missing, so he called the help line.
BILL SIMPSON, Precinct Supervisor: I need that little round thing that the leg goes into on the machine. Are you familiar with the machine at all? Okay. Let me try to describe it to you. When we open this machine, there are four legs that we take out. Those four legs are inserted into the back of the machine. You insert them into what is a blue-- I guess it's like a little blue hole. Okay? That blue hole is missing on one of those... one of those blue holes is missing on the machine. I need someone to get me another machine or get me another blue hole.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: About an hour later, police brought Simpson a new machine. It had all the right parts, but it was the wrong kind of machine.
SPOKESMAN: Can't make the switch because it will foul up the serial number in the sequence. We have to give you a whole new machine which was that one. Put that... swap the inner parts again. I'll give you the new machine and I'll take the old one which was defective.
BILL SIMPSON: This is a new machine.
SPOKESMAN: This is the new machine.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: It was late last night before Simpson had all the equipment working correctly, but this morning, the precinct opened on time.
SPOKESPERSON: It's open.
SPOKESMAN: Could I have the next five voters in line, please.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: For the first time, early voting was permitted statewide in the days leading up to the election. So many people turned out that some polling places had to stay open late, and by day's end yesterday, 200,000 people had voted just in South Florida alone. One of the reasons for the long lines was an equally lengthy ballot. There were more than ten constitutional amendments, including one that would ban the caging of pregnant pigs.
COMMERCIAL: Breeding pigs forced to spend years in steel cages.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Some voters thought the issue was frivolous.
SPOKESMAN: This is our pig issue. I don't know whether it really even concerns the voters. I figure, you know, a community that has that particular business ought to take care of it themselves.
WOMAN: Shouldn't be a constitutional amendment though.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But mostly, voters were irritated at the length of the ballot.
MARILYN LINDQUIST: I think it's too long. I think it's very hard for people to sit and go through it and decide how they should vote.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Had you looked at all of this before you came?
MARILYN LINDQUIST: Yes I did.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: How long did it take you to vote having gone over all the issues.
MARILYN LINDQUIST: It didn't take me long because I knew how I was going to vote once I got here.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But what do you think for other people, the length of the ballot?
MARILYN LINDQUIST: I'm a lawyer. And I think that the ballot is written well for a lawyer to understand but probably not for very many other people.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Broward County Commissioner Lori Parrish is concerned that the length of the ballot may affect voter turnout.
LORI PARRISH: We heard it would take you 13 minutes to read the questions. Voting could take 15 to 25 minutes. It would be impossible to purchase enough machines. If you think about, you know, 12 hours in the voting day and if you took 15 minutes, it would be four votes per hour per machine so it would only be 48 votes on one machine per day.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: In spite of the long ballot and isolated machine problems, election officials say anyone in line when the polls close will be allowed to vote, no matter how long it takes.