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Negotiators try to compromise on voting reform

The Senate and House now agree on how to pay for new voting equipment.

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


The Senate and House now agree on how to pay for new voting equipment.

TALLAHASSEE -- Legislators began Monday night to hammer out a compromise to fix an election system that caused problems during last year's presidential vote.

With only four days left in the legislative session, House and Senate negotiators started comparing bills passed in each chamber to come up with a single bill that would address all of the problems.

The goal is to create a system by the next statewide election, in 2002, that would make Floridians confident their votes counted.

House and Senate negotiators agree that punch card ballots must be replaced by improved technology, but until Monday night disagreed over how to pay for the new equipment needed in 41 counties.

The Senate included about $24-million to provide new equipment, while the House wanted to create a revolving loan program and lend money to counties that need help.

But state Rep. Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, said the House now is willing to join the Senate in making grants to counties that need help buying equipment.

That would provide $1.2-million each for Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, $495,000 for Pasco County and $191,000 for Hernando County. Each of those counties used punch card systems in the last election.

The House and Senate agree that the state should have a uniform ballot and an optical scan system that rejects erroneous ballots while the voter still is present, but would leave the door open for new touch screen technology as it is developed.

Byrd reminded legislators that they need to come up with a voting system that will eliminate voter confusion and that many voters in 2002 will be in new precincts.

Next year, legislators will redraw all legislative and congressional districts in the state to account for population shifts found in the 2000 Census. That means many of the state's voting precincts will change, which can confuse voters. "We should step into the shoes of the voters and realize we have to not only solve the errors of the past, but pay attention to potential problems," Byrd said.

Both the House and Senate would eliminate the second primary, which occurs when one candidate does not receive more than 50 percent of the votes. Democrats in Florida have long treasured the runoffs because some of their best-known public officials have benefited.

Legislators also would shift the primary election to the second Tuesday in September.

Negotiators could not agree on restoring the voting rights of felons, a measure that is in the Senate version but opposed by the House, or on provisions in the House bill that would ban out-of-state contributions to candidates using public financing. Committee members meet today to continue working out their differences before sending a single bill to the full House and Senate for votes later this week.

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