JIM LEHRER: No state has more riding on next week's voting than Florida, scene of such tumult and turmoil four years ago. Ray Suarez went to Florida last week for a look. Here's his report.
SPOKESPERSON: I attempted to vote for George Bush.
RAY SUAREZ: Remember 2000? Court cases, peering at partially punched ballots into the night, speculating about whether Palm Beach seniors really meant to vote for Pat Buchanan. Election authorities in Florida are unanimous: Not this time.
SPOKESPERSON: So it's already doubled.
RAY SUAREZ: Brenda Snipes is supervisor of elections in Broward, one of the state's most populated counties.
BRENDA SNIPES: The voters' confidence since 2000 has been shaken. We're in a posture now where we're trying to restore that confidence, and the way we've set about restoring it is by really making an effort to have successful and fairly error-free elections.
SPOKESPERSON: Thank you very much.
RAY SUAREZ: As secretary of state, Republican Glenda Hood is Florida's chief elections officer. She will certify the winners after Election Day.
GLENDA HOOD: I will tell you that our legislature put in place in 2001 a whole election reform package. So in a word, everything is different since 2000. We have new technology; we have new processes and procedures. We have delivered successful elections ever since all of those measures were put in place.
RAY SUAREZ: Howard Simon of the American Civil Liberties Union has been in court, fighting against what he sees as attempts at disenfranchisement. He's charged that the state has thrown out thousands of voter registrations unconstitutionally. He's filed a federal lawsuit saying the state of Florida has unfairly limited election supervisors' ability to do recounts. But even he says, come Election Day, it won't be like 2000.
HOWARD SIMON: We're not going to have the same problems. We're going to have different problems. We're not going to have the same problems because the technology is different and many of the laws and policies are different.
SPOKESPERSON: The president of United States, and Mrs. Laura Bush. (Cheers and applause)
RAY SUAREZ: Republicans and Democrats agree on one thing: They don't want another disputed result.
So both sides have adopted strategies to take advantage of every opportunity to drive up their vote totals, from registration drives to early voting and absentee ballots.
SPOKESPERSON: For the next 14 days...
RAY SUAREZ: Mike Hightower is Duval County Republican chairman. He says absentee ballots help build a targetable Republican vote.
MIKE HIGHTOWER: We have seen a significant increase in the number of our voting base that has now said, "you can do absentee ballot." Something like 61,000 people have already requested absentee ballots, and of that 61,000, Republicans are 32,000 of that.
RAY SUAREZ: Hightower's phone canvassers can more efficiently concentrate time and energy on getting Republican ballots mailed in, or as the chairman called it, on "banking votes."
SPOKESPERSON: I'm a local volunteer here in Jacksonville, calling on behalf of President Bush. You should have just received your absentee ballot request form in the mail. We're hoping that you are going to be supporting the president and might be sending that in for absentee or perhaps going on Election Day.
SPOKESPERSON: Everybody knows that there's nobody like Jesus.
RAY SUAREZ: In order to avoid problems at the polls that plagued Florida last time, Democratic supporters like the Reverend James Sampson have encouraged people to participate in early voting, or to vote absentee. He and other African Americans contend that 22,000 votes from black majority precincts in northeastern Florida weren't counted last time.
REV. JAMES SAMPSON: Last year, we was reactionary. This year, we're proactive. Of course, we started the fight three months ahead of time, serving notice to the official... the state official, supervisor of elections, that we won't tolerate what happened in 2000, so we've been watching what's been going on very closely this time before the election.
RAY SUAREZ: The Reverend Sampson and others hope early voting reduces vote problems by smoothing out demand over two weeks. And it gives people time to correct any problems they encounter at the polls.
SPOKESPERSON: If the person makes an error on their ballot and they want to get another one, this is the line to get... to receive a second ballot. This is what this line is for.
RAY SUAREZ: Thousands made the choice to vote early in Broward County in Southeast Florida, for the first time in a presidential election. In the concourse of a small shopping mall, a crowd of mostly senior citizens waited patiently for a chance to vote early. Up in Duval County, there was already controversy. It's the largest county in Florida in land area. It had only one early voting site, and that was downtown. The local African American community asked the election supervisor for more sites, but was rejected.
REV. JAMES SAMPSON: Things haven't gotten better. I think they've gotten worse. When you look at what has happened in the last three weeks in this county, we simply asked for five early polling sites because it's the largest city land-wise in the nation, and yet they have refused vigorously, so we feel as though we're being mishandled again.
RAY SUAREZ: Secretary Hood had no authority to open new polling places, but she pressured the county to prepare more. This week, two other early polling places will open for business. But activists complain it's still not enough.
SPOKESPERSON: Why don't you press it?
SPOKESPERSON: Here, hold this in.
RAY SUAREZ: Florida hopes to avoid fights over how people voted and whether their votes are counted. There are no punch cards this time. They've been made illegal in every county in the state. In their place is a mix of optical scan ballots and touch screen machines. In Jacksonville, early voters were given the choice: Touch screen or the paper optical scan ballot, which has ovals to be filled in by the voter and counted by an electronic scanner.
What if the margin is close? What if this most closely watched of state ballots needs a recount? The paper ballots are no problem; you just scan them again. The touch screens present a different challenge, if you need to verify the results. Secretary of State Hood's office issued a mandate earlier this year that no recounts will be done on touch screen systems. Groups like the ACLU sued the state, and last week the state issued new rules for printing out voting reports from each touch screen machine only in the case of a recount. Broward County's election supervisor says she's already been through a recount with touch-screen machines in one state house race.
BRENDA SNIPES: We went through and physically counted every one of the votes that was logged onto each machine. We went machine by machine to do that. So it takes a fairly good amount of time to do it, and I guess people would argue that whatever was put in the machine is what you get out, and that being so, it still is a paper verification of what actually occurred on the machine, so you're not just counting the collection devices. You actually can pull down a paper record of every event that took place on that machine.
RAY SUAREZ: But for Simon that's exactly the problem. The paper trail is not independent of the chips that keep the record, just the same thing in a different form.
HOWARD SIMON: To have a real audit, to have a real recount, you have to compare the information, the totals that are on the tabulation, to an independent data source. And that has got to be the voter-verified paper trail. You have to compare the paper to the tabulation, and if there's a dispute, paper trumps the electronic tabulation. But simply reprinting over and over again, I mean just recounting and reprinting the same numbers over and over again, is not an audit and is not a recount.
SPOKESPERSON: They won't steal our vote...
RAY SUAREZ: To assess Florida's chances of becoming, well, the next Florida, you have to keep your eye on many things happening at once...
GROUP: Four more years! Four more years!
RAY SUAREZ: ...That could cause a potential overload of the voting system.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I want to thank all the volunteers who are getting ready to walk the vote across not only Florida, but all across our country today.
RAY SUAREZ: There are intense efforts to drive turnout, by the parties, and by non-partisan good government organizations. Churches, with members across the political spectrum, are driving turnout.
REV. JAMES SAMPSON: Every one of our votes, every one of our votes, every one of our votes is counted. (Congregation agrees) You can't sit around here -
VOICE: That's right.
REV. JAMES SAMPSON: -- and talk like it don't matter, it does matter. ( Applause ) You got to take your souls... you got to take your souls to the polls. Tell your neighbor, "neighbor..."
REV. JAMES SAMPSON: "...Take your soul...
GROUP: ...Take your soul...
REV. JAMES SAMPSON: "...to the poll."
GROUP: ...To the poll.
SPOKESPERSON: Right by the "x," please.
RAY SUAREZ: Across the state of Florida, tens of thousands of votes have already been cast, by mail and in person.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: You know, from the resounding reception that you just gave me, it sounds like I already won the popular vote. I don't know... ( cheers and applause ) but... but I'll tell you, if that's true, somewhere, Catherine Harris is demanding a recount, and we can't take anything for granted. So we've got to fight every single day.
RAY SUAREZ: While the candidates are still running hard to grab Florida, young workers are assembling the materials necessary to support all those who want to vote. They're also preparing for problems. Provisional ballots will be provided to those whose names aren't on the poll lists. Those ballots may get counted or may get thrown away, depending on whether the person voted in the correct precinct, or registered to vote in time for November. Now it all has to work, and be seen to work. There's optimism.
GLENDA HOOD: I have every confidence in our supervisors of elections that they will continue to have the most secure administration in their office, and making sure that everybody knows that their vote counts, their ballot will be counted.
RAY SUAREZ: But there also remains skepticism.
REV. JAMES SAMPSON: We need more than luck. We need divine intervention. (Laughs )
RAY SUAREZ: There are now more than ten million registered voters in Florida, up about two million since 2000. Election supervisors now say turnout could top 70 percent. Already, the federal courtrooms are busy; a coalition of civil rights groups are suing the state over 10,000 incomplete voter registrations that could be thrown out; a judge will decide on the case this week. Another federal lawsuit against the state of Florida asks that every touch-screen machine print a paper record after each vote is cast. Right now, there is no immediate paper record of a touch screen vote. With many lawsuits being threatened, it will be the most watched election in Florida's history, as thousands of poll watchers and volunteer observers from inside and outside the state join voters at the polls, waiting to see who gets Florida's precious 27 electoral votes.