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Repair voting, but 'how' is the big question

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2001


Last year's election is but a distant bitter memory, but it is still dominating the lives of a lot of people.

Gov. Jeb Bush, the state's election supervisors and a task force appointed by the governor, all want to see by 2002 an optical scan system that allows voters to instantly correct mistakes on their ballots.

Bush says the problems that made Florida an international laughingstock will be cured in time for the 2002 election, but he still has to convince a few holdouts.

One of those is apparently Senate President John McKay, who says he is not convinced that the state should switch to the upgraded optical scan system that has a very low error rate.

The governor and others all want the upgraded optical scan system.

McKay's position is odd because his home county uses the upgraded scanning system, which had an overall error rate of 0.79 percent, compared to the much higher 5.69 percent error rate for the central count system he says he likes. Even punchcard systems, which every one wants to throw out, have a lower error rate: 3.83 percent.

Aides say McKay doesn't believe the state should mandate any system, and opposes leasing equipment for $20-million if it can be purchased for $40-million. Unlike the governor and others who have looked at the various voting systems, McKay is apparently willing to accept the higher error rate. His own elections committee, in a report released Friday, found the precinct count system the best available.

A new voting system is needed in 41 counties.

Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Pam Iorio on Friday came up with an idea for financing the new equipment. She outlined her proposal in a letter to Bush.

This year, with serious budget constraints, legislators could spend about $5-million buying the proper equipment for 21 counties.

Next year, when more money is expected to be available, the state could provide approximately $19.4-million, half the cost of providing the upgraded optical scan system needed in the remaining 20 punchcard counties.

Then, in 2002, legislators could appropriate about $2-million to help counties that already have the better system upgrade their equipment.

Iorio's proposal probably makes too much sense to survive the Florida legislative process, but it's a start.

Everyone hopes some federal money will be available to help the state and counties buy new equipment, but no one is sure how the burden will be divided.

Bush says the problem WILL be solved in this year's legislative session, and he's pushing hard to make sure. Bush says he'll try to persuade McKay to change his mind.

Over in the House, legislators aren't just moving to fix the equipment. They'd also like to change the way Florida selects Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges.

They are accusing the court of writing laws instead of interpreting them, and are looking at term limits for judges, limiting the court's jurisdiction, a requirement that appellate judges win a two-thirds vote of the people, and making other changes in the way judges are selected.

Barry Richard, the lawyer who represented President George W. Bush, opposes the move.

Richard lost at the Florida Supreme Court every time, but won at the U.S. Supreme Court. You might expect him to be unhappy with the Florida court. He thinks the Florida court wrongly interpreted the law, but he's not ready to throw them out.

"I think it's terrible," Richard said Friday as he discussed the House resolution. "Even if one has a reason to be angry at the court, you don't attack the institution itself."

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