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    Change in voting wins in landslide

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 17, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- By a surprisingly big margin, Floridians want the state's election machinery fixed, standardized and ready for the 2002 election.

    More than 80 percent want a system that uses the same kind of voting machines and the same recount rules in every county, according to a poll conducted for political science professors at four state universities.

    Dr. Susan MacManus of the University of South Florida and other professors disclosed the results of the poll at a news conference Monday.

    She said the cooperative effort began because the professors were curious about the long-range impact that last year's controversial presidential recount would have on Florida voters.

    "Nearly two-thirds say the outcome of last November's presidential election has increased their belief that every vote really does count, rather than dampened their confidence," MacManus said.

    The Collins Center for Public Policy and the James Madison Institute, two think tanks, paid for the poll, which was conducted by Rob Schroth & Associates of Washington. Schroth, a national firm that has also been used by the St. Petersburg Times, interviewed 600 Floridians between April 3 and 8.

    "The citizens of Florida have a very clear perception of what needs to occur," said Edwin H. Moore, president of the James Madison Institute. "The voters expect action."

    More than 70 percent also supported a single closing time for all polls in the state and the creation of a statewide voter list to help curb fraud.

    More than 67 percent said the state needs more voter education, a suggestion the professors readily agree is needed. Something as simple as exhibits at local shopping malls and school visits would help, MacManus said.

    The professors said they were surprised by the unusually high margin of agreement among Floridians answering the questions.

    "Never in the history of polling have I seen such unanimity," MacManus said..

    Almost 80 percent of those polled said they think the problems encountered in Florida exist in other states.

    MacManus said she thinks some of the answers reflect an electorate that is frustrated with the Legislature's slow process.

    "The Legislature will be viewed as a failure if reforms are not passed," suggested Dr. Dario Moreno of Florida International University.

    Voters were almost evenly split on the type of voting system the state should acquire.

    Twenty-eight percent want high-tech, touch-screen systems; 27 percent want optical-scan equipment now used in many counties; and 27 percent said they don't think the state needs new equipment.

    Lawmakers are considering a variety of bills that would require uniform voting equipment, a standard ballot and a central voter list to prevent fraud.

    The poll indicated differences in the way some voters saw the state's problems.

    African-Americans and non-Cuban Hispanics generally cited confusing ballots and punch card systems provided by government as the reason for the state's election failure. Whites and Cubans cited the individual shortcomings of voters as the most serious problem.

    substantial difference between African-Americans and whites when asked about restoring the voting rights of convicted felons who have completed their sentences.

    More than 75 percent of the African-Americans favor a restoration of rights. Overall, 46 percent of those who responded to the poll strongly opposed restoring such rights and only 17 percent of the Republicans who responded favored voting rights for felons.

    Legislators in both chambers are considering bills that would restore the voting rights of felons who have served their time and paid restitution.

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    From the Times state desk