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    Letters to the Editors

    Punch cards may be as good a way to vote as any

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2001


    The punch card voting system is not perfect, but it is probably just as accurate as the replacement systems being considered.

    Pinellas County purchased the punch card system after a state attorney's investigation found the lever system subject to manipulation. At the urging of the late Howard Lawrence, chairman of the Democratic Party, and myself, chairman of the Republican Party, the Pinellas County Commission purchased new machines. To my knowledge every system available at that time was considered.

    The punch card system was selected after an exhaustive study by the supervisor of elections, state attorney's office, County Commission, Democratic Party and the Republican Party. It was selected because it was easily maintained and transported, inexpensive to use, easily understood, quick to tally votes, allowed hand tallying and had an accuracy rate of nearly 100 percent.

    The system has been used in Pinellas County and other Florida counties for 25 years. Its results have been challenged thousands of times, and its accuracy has been proved. As in any system, the results can be compromised. There is the human problem of tampering with the equipment, purposely mishandling the mechanical problems, using card stock not as specified, using poorly perforated cards and using cards printed out of line, which could have been the cause of hanging chads, dimpled chads and other problems that surfaced during the 2000 election.

    Although there was evidence of voter fraud and manipulation in some counties and attempts to discredit the system in others, there was no evidence of wrongdoing by the elections supervisors or staff, who should be commended for maintaining their integrity under circumstances created by others and not giving in to intimidation.

    The national media's reporting led others to believe Florida's election process is flawed. This is not true. How many other state's elections officials could have measured up to the integrity of Florida's supervisors of elections had they experienced the invasion of hoodlums, attorneys, paid hecklers, professional demonstrators and media as well as the political pressure, threats, intimidation and false charges? Few. Then there was the people problem of unregistered voters who demanded to vote, others who couldn't read or didn't know the candidates or what party they represented.

    A final note: Re-evaluate the punch card system under the same specified conditions as all other systems being considered. It might be found that the punch card system, with the noted problems being corrected, would be as capable as the others of producing a high level of efficiency.
    -- Ray Aden, Largo

    The machines are too flawed

    Re: Voters might be stuck with punch cards for now, Feb. 17.

    As a senior citizen who experienced considerable difficulty in using a punch-card machine in the recent election, I find it outrageous that Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, the former supervisor of elections in Hillsborough County, should still in effect be parroting the line of George W. Bush and Jim Baker (the former U.S. secretary of state who was Bush's spokesman) on the tallying of questionable punch-card ballots.

    Sebesta avers that "perhaps 98 percent of the problems were "voter problems.' " He backs Pinellas County Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark in her "voter education" campaign to have voters in the coming St. Petersburg municipal elections inspect their ballots for dangling chads and then hand-brush them away before dropping their ballots in the ballot box (Insider's notebook, Feb. 5).

    I have news for both of them. This Baker-Bush-inspired clone of a voting procedure will disenfranchise once again at least two deserving groups: new voters and frail, elderly seniors. For goodness' sake, people, if I, a 215-pound, well-muscled individual, could not punch out a chad in voting for my candidate for president in the last election -- could not, that is, until with considerable twisting and turning of the stylus while exerting downward pressure, I managed to dislodge a presumably stuck chad from a previous voter's efforts -- how do you expect many clueless new voters and frail, handicapped seniors to cope with what is clearly a punch-card machine failure?

    I submit that since these defective punch-card machines with worn rubber backings where chads may stick will be used again in the coming municipal elections, only a hand recount of ballots will tally all valid votes, and these votes would include, of course, ballots with hanging and dimpled chads.
    -- Glen Cowing, St. Petersburg

    Let voters take responsibility

    I have lived and worked in a number of states and a few foreign countries since reaching voting age in 1953. I have voted in every election I was eligible to participate in since that time and have been a resident of Florida since 1988.

    It is incongruous to me that this fair state, prompted by a few disgruntled Democrats and the liberal media, is thinking about spending millions of taxpayer dollars to change the way we cast our vote. Whatever happened to voters accepting personal responsibility for casting a valid ballot?

    Each time I voted in Florida using a punch card, I have held my ballot up to the light to ensure that there were no chads -- hanging or otherwise. If I had a doubt about my ballot, I spoke to a precinct worker to ensure that my vote was valid -- nothing to it! If a voter has a visual or physical impairment, assistance is always available.

    Shakespeare said it best: "The fault is not in the stars but in ourselves." We should not throw taxpayer dollars at problems that can be solved by accepting personal responsibility for our actions -- or lack thereof!
    -- John Hungerford, Palm Harbor

    Polling place problems

    I'd like to describe my most recent election experience in Pinellas County. When I presented myself last Election Day, the cranky person with the book told me I wasn't listed, as he didn't find me between "Ost" and "Osw."

    I suggested he look at the beginning of the Os. Insisting it wasn't done that way, he made no move to turn the page. When I made no move to leave, he waited awhile and finally flipped the page. And, of course, I was there.

    After reading about other people's experiences, I got angry. If I had been an inexperienced voter (and what gives anyone the right to sneer at them?) I might have left. If I hadn't been white, middle-class and "average," would Mr. Cranky have ever turned the page?

    And where were the notices to tell me what to do in such a case? How would I have found out who to call? Would I have had to miss work for the rest of the day to correct the error? Friends who work the polls tell me I'm entitled to help from poll workers; I've never seen a sign of that. (Nor have I seen any sign of help for anyone who might be disabled in any way, though I've always assumed it's there.)

    I object to punch card ballots because I'm extremely left-handed, and I must choose between not seeing what I'm doing if I use my left hand, or not being sure the stylus has done what I want if I use my less effective right hand. So it takes me longer to vote, and one bit of information I did acquire through all that fine print is that I've got to get out of there within five minutes. (What's that about?)

    I've heard a lot of grumbling that the motor voter laws caused problems, but problems are caused by the people administering the laws -- like those who decided to leave the apostrophe off my name on my driver's license, which I used for identification.

    We need to get rid of those stupid punch-hole ballots, but we must retain a paper trail. How can anyone trust computer operators not to mess up the results, even by accident? And we need to have very visible signs about procedures and help in every polling place. Perhaps we need some way to give poll workers some breaks, too, so they'll remember that they're there to assist in the most important process of democracy.
    -- Eileen O'Sullivan St. Petersburg

    Consider the conscience vote

    Re: Ralph Nader.

    Let me say first that I am a Catholic somewhat in alliance with papal doctrine. Ralph Nader seems to get a lot of flak for sinking Al Gore's presidency. I really don't think it is entirely his fault. You may want to shift the blame to the 25 percent of Catholics who did not vote for Gore or Bush. There is no mechanism for voting "None of the above." Therefore the only way to vote conscience and a dissenting vote is to vote for a third party candidate, as I did.

    I could not in right conscience vote for Gore because of his policy on abortion (destruction of life on the alpha side). Neither could I in all right conscience vote for Bush because of his policy on the death penalty which eventually will lead to a legalization of euthanasia (destruction of life on the omega side). Some one may want to do a study on this legitimate phenomena.

    These two issues were enough to cause me to vote as I did. All the other issues are only smoke because they have been on the agenda for many years and may never be resolved due to the egos of our senators and representatives, in whom we place our misguided trust.
    -- Patrick Russo, Safety Harbor

    Preserve court authority over lawyers

    Re: House speaker says Supreme Court needs overhaul, Feb. 6.

    This article states that some legislators want to take away the Florida Supreme Court's authority over lawyers. As a non-lawyer who has researched lawyer misconduct, I see that the status quo is imperfect. But whoever regulates lawyers, the potential for abuse will exist in the client-lawyer relationship. Legislative regulation of lawyers reminds me of "frying pans" and "fires."

    In theory, legislative regulation could make lawyers more accountable to the public. In practice, I doubt that because 1) legislators face constant political pressures and 2) lawyers are involved in the political process (as legislators or lobbyists).

    If the Legislature regulated lawyers, who would have greater "control": public-minded legislators or politically active lawyers?

    The Legislature has 160 members, and the legislative process is slow and fueled by compromise. The Supreme Court, with seven members, can quickly address problems. And the court is not subject to the same pressures and limitations as the Legislature.

    Also, the court has concretely demonstrated its concern for the public in at least two ways: 1) it required pro-bono work, and 2) it struck down the "gag rule" in 1990 (a Bar practice that had kept secret matters of lawyer discipline).

    The court is both willing and able to guard the public's interests. The Legislature may be well-meaning, but political reality would hinder its ability to balance the interests of lawyers and the public. If we tried legislative control and did not like it, we would have little chance of changing back. Please be careful what you wish for.
    -- Deborah Cupples, Gainesville

    A perfect Valentine

    Re: A wedding for the ages, Feb. 14.

    Kudos to Dan DeWitt on this uplifting article.

    I smiled from the first sentence to the last. It was the perfect Valentine's message for the front page.
    -- Eunice Hirsch, St. Petersburg

    Share your opinions

    Letters for publication should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. They can be sent by e-mail to letters@sptimes.com or by fax to (727) 893-8675.

    They should be brief and must include the writer's name, address and phone number. Please include a handwritten signature when possible.

    Letters may be edited for clarity, taste and length.
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