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All eyes on Florida
A Times Editorial
Published July 24, 2004
What is it like to be a supervisor of elections in Florida nowadays? Ask Kay Clem, elections chief in Indian River County and past president of the state supervisors association.
"We don't need terrorists to disrupt the election," Clem said recently. "We have the political parties, the presidential candidates and the auxiliary groups filing lawsuits."
She might have added the media, which have focused laser-like on Florida's problems as though the future of the republic rested in our hands and nowhere else. Maybe it does . . . once again.
Most of the scrutiny is deserved, of course. Florida did botch the 2000 election in a number of well-publicized ways. It looked as though the state would learn from its mistakes, getting rid of punch cards for electronic machines and cleaning up election procedures. Then came the touch-screen scandals and the felons list.
Scorn cast on the reliability of touch-screen voting has been misplaced. While Diebold, one of the makers of touch screens, has been careless with its reputation and security, Diebold machines aren't approved for use in Florida. As for the two kinds of touch screens used here, no one has produced credible evidence that they are vulnerable to fraud or inaccuracy. In fact, touch screens have made the ballot more accessible to disabled voters and easier for everyone.
The same defense cannot be made for how state officials handled the list of voters to be purged because of felony convictions. Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Glenda Hood had to pull the erroneous list after it was pointed out to them that many legitimate voters were named as felons while criminal records of Hispanics (who are more likely to vote Republican) were overlooked.
Whatever credibility the state Division of Elections had regained since 2000 was lost. So the state's 67 supervisors of elections are on their own - with only weeks until the Aug. 31 primary. If that vote goes well, and if the outcome in November isn't close, then the heat will probably be off Florida.
Elections supervisors shouldn't count on that, nor will they. They have trained poll workers and educated voters, though they cannot do too much of either. Voters need to do their part, as well, by familiarizing themselves with the ballot and voting machines.
Can Florida have a perfect election? "The bottom line: Give me 9.3-million perfect voters, 67 perfect supervisors and their staffs, over 20,000 perfect poll workers," said Clem. "We're not going to have a perfect election before that."
With all eyes on Florida, everyone will have to play his or her part. In the time left before the election, those who care about the state and the democratic process should help the supervisors of elections get as close to perfection as possible rather than make their jobs more difficult.