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Voting in Florida

Officials in Florida are examining ways to reform that state's voting procedures after the disputed presidential election last year. Can similar voting mistakes be avoided? Betty Ann Bowser reports.

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  • COMMERCIAL SPOKESPERSON:

    Completely covered with flavor

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    It may have been funny to millions of Americans watching TV…

  • COMMERCIAL SPOKESPERSON:

    Absolutely covered.

  • COMMERCIAL SPOKESPERSON:

    Completely covered.

  • COMMERCIAL SPOKESPERSON:

    Totally covered.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    — but election officials in Florida were not amused. The commercial poked fun at an already painful subject even Governor Jeb Bush took note.

  • GOV. JEB BUSH:

    When they start doing TV ads about how to count manually count ballots — as you ve seen with those chips — you've seen that ad, Ruffles you know we may have reached a point where it's time to evaluate how we go about doing that.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    In December, Governor Bush appointed a 21-member, bipartisan task force to figure out what went wrong when Floridians went to the polls and how to keep those problems from ever happening again. The Governor was the lead-off witness at the first hearing.

  • GOV. JEB BUSH:

    It seems to me that the main mission here ought to be to bring clarity, to bring clarity where after the in the aftermath of this election there was clearly confusion. We should bring clarity to the voting methods in this state. Every voter needs to know, when they go to vote, that their vote is going to count. BETTY ANN BOWSER: Bush never gave the task force a broad sweeping mandate. But from the beginning, members said they hoped to make recommendations in at least these areas: How to improve voting machine technology; how to improve voter education; and how to better count absentee ballots.

  • SPOKESPERSON:

    Members of the task force, let s get started please.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    The task force held 31 hours of hearings in four cities. There were 20 invited witnesses and only 100 members of the public showed up to testify. There was one public hearing in South Florida where most of the voting problems took place on election day, and it was held on the suburban campus of a new university, more than an hour from where the irregularities occurred. One witness complained about that.

  • SCOTT HOTCHKISS:

    First I want to say and I am extremely skeptical. I don t believe the Florida legislature really want the participation of average working citizens. There was no advertisement in the newspaper, the radio, or TV about this meeting. Also the time frame — 5 to 7p.m., it s very difficult for a working man to go home take care of his family and get cleaned up and make it to a meeting like this on time.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    More distressing to South Florida s election officials was that none of them were invited to testify. David Leahy, election supervisor of Miami-Dade, the state s largest county, had to ask to be heard and was given only three minutes.

  • DAVID LEAHY:

    Well, I did find it odd that you had the task force meeting in what is ground zero where we had all these problems Nov. 7th and that the supervisor from Palm Beach and the Supervisor from Miami-Dade County were not invited to make a presentation to the panel. Four meetings is difficult for all these issues to be discussed, to get public input, for them for the task force members to become more educated in the electoral process in Florida. So it is a rush job.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Former Secretary of State and task force co-chair Jim Smith agreed the group needed more time.

  • JIM SMITH:

    Realize we've got a March 1 reporting date. We only had about I think eight weeks for this task force to exist and we will have a number of areas that we are going to recommend need more study, and I'm confident the legislature is going to do that on a long term basis.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    After finishing its business, the task force has indicated it will make four recommendations to the governor and the legislature: that new voting machines be leased on a short term basis, until a more permanent long term technology can be found; that Floridians get more voter education; that more money be put into training precinct workers; and create an online voter registration database.

  • WOMAN:

    The purpose of my comment just now is to ask the task force to please not close the door to touch screen technology voting in Florida.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    During the four hearings, a lot of time was spent debating what kind of voting machines should replace the antiquated punch card system that caused so many problems. This is the voting machine the task force indicates it has settled on. It s called an optical scan. Voters fill in an oval on a paper ballot then put the piece of paper in a machine at the precinct that optically scans it to count the votes. The machine can be set to reject a ballot when the voter marks two candidates for the same office and can be set to let voters know when they have not voted for any candidate.

  • MAN:

    Are we ready to vote on all three then as amended? All in favor of the motion say aye. All opposed the motion carries. Thank you very much.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Co-Chairman Smith believes the optical scan system can be leased in time for next year s statewide governor s race and will go far to restore voter confidence.

  • JIM SMITH:

    I think we need to be careful; we need to make sure that what we do with technology…to know that it works. You know, people are going to be distrustful I think for many election cycles. We need to give our supervisors the opportunity to look at whatever I think is recommended to ensure the legislature before they enact something into law that it really is going to work so that people don't continue to be frustrated.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    But not one of the election supervisors in South Florida, where most of the problems were, think the optical scan is a good idea.

  • DAVID LEAHY:

    Optical scan is also difficult for large counties to use. We have multiple languages here. We print every ballot in Spanish, English and some ballots in Creole — difficult for optical scan to deal with three languages. My ballot is so long in this county that in some instances I will not hand a voter just one paper ballot maybe front and back — but two ballots. And that will confuse some voters.

  • MAN:

    And you can pick whatever language you want. If you re in a county that has multiple languages, then there s your ballot.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Leahy and other South Florida election supervisors like the touch screen system; with it, the voter simply touches the screen to select which candidate to vote for. It will not allow people to vote for two candidates for the same office and will tell them when they have not voted for any candidate. But the touch screen system is expensive. Just to put it in Miami Dade alone would cost an estimated 32 million dollars. And the governor has already indicated there is only 30 million dollars in his next budget for election reform statewide. The task force made no recommendations on what to do about voting irregularities in predominantly black precincts…what to do about absentee or provisional ballots or how to restore voting rights to convicted felons who have served their time.

  • MAN:

    Are there other questions?

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    At the hearing in Southern Florida last week, Senator Daryl Jones made a plea to tackle those issues.

  • SEN. DARYL JONES:

    The fear that I had in coming on this task force was that we were going to deal with only one side of this issue — two sides to this issue as I see it, the people who went to the polls and voted whose votes were counted, technology solves that problem for the most part. The other side of the issue are the people who went to the polls who were valid registered voters but who were not permitted to vote; that is a problem that we have to address. We cannot let this task force go beyond — go past this process without attempting to deal with that side of the issue as well.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    The task force will ask the legislature to investigate these issues further. In spite of the hearings, there remains widespread distrust in the African-American community where thousands of people have complained they were not allowed to vote or their votes were later thrown out. After the election, there were angry demonstrations. The NAACP filed a class action lawsuit asking a federal judge to order the state and county election officials to upgrade voting equipment, to improve voter registration procedures, and better educate precinct workers.

  • BISHOP VICTOR T. CURRY:

    My question to you those of you who are listening number one, you ve got you ve got Katharine Harris, who is like at the forefront of this entire debacle of the election; you ve got Jeb Bush s brother benefited from it. Now, they re calling the shots.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Critics, like Bishop Victor T. Curry, say Governor Bush is more interested in getting re-elected than in real election reform. Curry runs a religious-based radio station in Miami and is pastor of one of the largest African-American congregations in South Florida.

  • BISHOP VICTOR T. CURRY:

    All of a sudden now he's real patriotic and he wants every vote to count? Of course not. I mean they're playing games with us and right now I'm just not buying that loaf of bread. It has too much mold on it. And until they allocate the money and put the system in place, because I guarantee you even if they allocate the money, they'll tell us that it won't be in place until after 2002 because they ve got to get him four more years.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Governor Bush's press office turned down our requests for an on-camera interview, citing his busy schedule and saying he would have no comment on the task force until its work is done. But one of the states leading Republicans, Speaker of the House Tom Feeny, promised the legislature will undertake real reform and he defended the Governor

  • REP. TOM FEENY:

    I don't think anybody is more concerned about the integrity of the ballot box in Florida than Governor Bush. I think he takes it as a personal responsibility. I ll tell you we are going to be respectful of the recommendations of the governor s task force. The House of Representatives in Florida has its own committee set up, rules, ethics, and elections committee; we ll be studying ways to accomplish goals. I can't tell you what the exact results are going to be or what it is going to cost or exactly what the machinery may look like but two things that are very important to me — number one: I want to have machinery that people are going to have confidence in and if you do, your minimum level of responsibility your intent will be properly recorded; and number two I want to minimize the need to have manual recounts.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Task force member Jones does think public pressure will force the legislature to pass something.

  • SEN. DARYL JONES:

    I think that with the eyes of the world watching you and with people being smart enough to know the difference between right and wrong that it will be difficult for this legislature to discuss those issues and come out with anything but a positive result. I believe that if that legislature decides to take any other action, that there will be heck to pay in the upcoming election. And people will understand who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.

  • MAN:

    I declare the task force meeting adjourned. Thank you very much.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    The task force will give its recommendations to the Governor and Florida legislature on March 1st. From there, the legislature has until the end of April to hammer out a reform package. The tight deadline is to give enough time for election supervisors in Florida's 67 counties to implement the reform package for the upcoming gubernatorial primary in the fall of 2002.

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