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Election Chaos

A look at the second wave of voting problems in South Florida, despite the state's recent $32 million investment in new touch screen voting technology.

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    There's a warehouse out by the Miami Airport where county workers spent the weekend shuffling heavy black plastic cases that contain Dade County's fancy new computer voting machines.

    They bought the $3,000-a-copy touch screen machines to replace the much-maligned punch-card system that threw the 2000 presidential election into chaos. But despite a $32 million investment in this new system, chaos again reigned when voters went to the polls in South Florida on September 10.

    Poll workers couldn't get the machines to start, and then opened late. Even Former Attorney General Janet Reno, who was vying for the Democratic nomination for governor, had to wait while workers scrambled to get the machines running.

    In other places, workers didn't show up, requests for technical help were never answered, and then workers failed to shut down the machines properly. It all forced the county to reopen and recalculate the votes in hundreds of machines from dozens of districts with suspiciously low — even zero– voter turnouts.

    Dorothy Heller was one of thousands of frustrated voters. Somehow her registration as a Democrat was changed to show her as a Republican, disqualifying her from voting for Democratic Party candidates. That may have happened because the state had just undergone redistricting in addition to changing the method of voting.

  • DOROTHY HELLER, Miami-Dade Voter:

    I walked in, went to the table, I asked them if my name is on the record, and it was, and the young lady gave me a card stating I was a Republican. "I'm not a Republican," I said, "I'm a registered Democrat." And she said, "Well, you can't vote." I said right out, "I have a right to vote." And nobody said anything and I walked out.


    In the light of the moon…


    Democrat Matthew Jagger is a single parent in South Miami. His registration was correct, but a poll worker mistakenly assigned him to a machine that displayed the Republican ballot. He followed instructions and pushed a button that was supposed to reset the device.

  • MATTHEW JAGGER, Miami-Dade Voter:

    And I was like, "okay, now what?" Nothing came up. So, then he doesn't know what's going on. He goes over to the, I guess, the inspector, and talks to her for a few minutes, and then he comes back, and says, "Well, I'm sorry, sir, it must have been a mistake or something, but you registered your vote." And I said, "Well, I didn't get to vote on my candidates."

    And then we went back and forth for a while, and she called downtown. Downtown said there's nothing they can do, my vote was registered, and that she's sorry that I couldn't vote for the candidates, and that was about it.


    Jack Wile and Lorraine Silverman worked the polls that day in North Miami. Both had done so in previous elections, and both had undergone training. But neither was prepared for what happened that morning.

  • JACK WILE, Miami-Dade Poll Worker:

    We were given a class of approximately four and a half hours, and a lot of it was sophisticated computerized equipment that we had never seen before. And it was difficult to comprehend. I was in a class of approximately 36 to 40 people, and I would say when the class ended, after about four and a half hours, maybe four of us understood what our actual jobs were, and the rest of them were basically pretty well confused.

  • LORRAINE SILVER, Miami-Dade Poll Worker:

    I blame the board of elections. I think that they were… I think they were mistaken in the fact that they thought that this could all be accomplished in one fast easy step and no problems. I think they overlooked the time constraint. I think they overlooked a lot of problems.

    They certainly… and they may have — very well have done a mockup, but with people working in the board of elections, not with senior citizens who would take more time to do the same job. And I think that was a big mistake. I think they should have taken people like us and did a mockup with us and seen how it worked. The voters didn't have a problem. It was the poll workers that had the problems.

  • WOMAN:

    You still can't tell the intent.


    The recount finally wrapped up yesterday, as the Miami-Dade County canvassing board recounted absentee ballots, then issued the final vote tally a full week after the primary.


    Although there were many problems– I don't want to make any excuses for those, and I take responsibility for those– there were many, many polling places throughout the county where voting went well. They opened up the booths well, the voting went unhindered all day long, and they closed down the booths properly and we had full results on election night. So there was a good process in many polling places.


    While we make no excuses, there's a… it is inexcusable what happened on September 10. I, with Mr. Leahy, and of course the inspector general now, is looking at the process with us in identifying not only the issues that we face both from a technological standpoint, because there were many, as well as the logistics that we had to face and those problems.


    Republican Governor Jeb Bush was sharply critical of both Dade and Broward Counties, where both election commissions are run by Democrats.


    I'm angry, as you can tell, because we have… you know, we're the state that responded to the 2000 election with reforms that are precedent- setting. And the monies we put into the elections, along with what the local governments have done, make no excuses possible for the kind of problems that we faced.


    But Dade County Democratic Party Chairman Ray Zeller blames the governor.


    I think it's the failure of the governor. When you become the governor of a state, you take the responsibility for that whole state, not just for Tallahassee, not just for Orange County, or Duvall County, or Collier County; you take the responsibility for every county. So, yes, I hold the governor totally responsible.


    Mary Ellen Miller is the Dade County Republican party chairman.


    I wouldn't be comfortable pointing the finger at anybody today until we really know what happened in these elections. I would point my… I would not point fingers, I would not accept anybody's accusation that this has anything at all to do with Governor Bush. He certainly extended himself far and beyond, as did our Republican house and state Senate.


    Gisela Salas is Miami-Dade's assistant supervisor of elections.


    I think we all share the blame. The department shares the blame, the administration shares the blame. There's… the vendors share the blame. I mean, we all see where we have possibly gone wrong. Unfortunately, it's something you can't take back. You can only look to the future and do what you can to rectify the problems and really strive to make sure that the equipment is working properly.


    Salas says that includes better, more hands-on training for poll workers, stationing county employees at each precinct, and avoiding last-minute changes to computer software.

    Somewhat lost in all the hoopla was the fact that former Attorney General Janet Reno conceded defeat yesterday afternoon after the vote totals were released, ending her quest to unseat Governor Bush. She also ended the possibility of a lawsuit that could have triggered an even more embarrassing replay of the last presidential election.

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