Gov. Jeb Bush praises changes made to Florida's elections system in a ceremonial signing in South Florida.
By LUCY MORGAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 10, 2001
WEST PALM BEACH -- Gov. Jeb Bush returned to the land of hanging chads Wednesday for ceremonial signings of a new elections bill designed to take Florida off the Saturday night comedy shows and make it a model for the nation.
"It is a day to celebrate," Bush said as he, Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan and Secretary of State Katherine Harris joined Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore and legislative leaders. They gathered at the county's emergency operations center -- the place where butterfly ballots and controversial recounts occurred during the election dispute that resulted in George W. Bush winning the presidency.
"While some of us were held hostage in Tallahassee for 36 days, some of you were here," Bush noted. "I hope when this bill is signed, this building can be used for its original purpose -- to take care of natural disasters.
Bush said he thought it was important to return to Palm Beach and Volusia counties, where recount problems developed.
"This was the symbol of the old system," Bush told reporters in Palm Beach. "History will look favorably on the people who changed it. The state responded to the problems."
Noting the international prominence of LePore and Palm Beach County Judge Charles E. Burton, Bush said he thinks the county is moving from the confusion of last year's election "to a system that will be the envy of the nation."
In a press conference broadcast live on C-Span, Bush urged the nation to check eBay, the online auction on the Internet for the upcoming auction of the old punch card voting machines Palm Beach is tossing aside.
And he noted that Palm Beach is one of the counties that is likely to upgrade to a high-tech, state-of-the-art touch screen voting system, bypassing the lower-cost optical scan system that will be required as a minimum statewide standard.
In Palm Beach and in a stop at the Volusia County Courthouse in DeLand, Bush said he thinks other states would be smart to follow Florida's lead before they have a close election and find out what it's like to be under the microscope of the world's news media.
"With this bill, we can stand all the scrutiny of the nation," Bush added. "There will be no more chads."
Palm Beach and Volusia counties were among the four counties where Vice President Al Gore asked for recounts after the Nov. 7 vote. Both counties voted for Gore over Bush's brother, George W. Bush, who won the presidency after the U.S. Supreme Court ended the recount in Florida on Dec. 12.
LePore expressed disappointment that the bill did not require all of the state's election supervisors to be non-partisan. She did not mention her own departure from the Democratic Party this week when she re-registered with no party affiliation.
"I firmly believe out of everything bad, comes something good," LePore said.
In Volusia County, scene of yet another Election Day recount uproar, Bush stood on the courthouse steps before several hundred people who later mobbed him for autographs and repeatedly stopped him to take pictures.
Volusia Supervisor of Elections Deanie Lowe also praised the bill and reminded Bush that the spot where they stood Wednesday was "a beehive of activity" filled with the national media just six months ago.
Bush praised legislators for passing a bill that would provide more than $30-million to help counties pay for new voting machines by 2002, voter education and the creation of a statewide voter list designed to prevent duplicate voting.
The bill addresses many of the problems that surfaced during the presidential recount by establishing guidelines for recounts, abolishing runoff primaries and making it easier to cast absentee ballots.
"Never again will we have lawyers telling our military they aren't entitled to vote on Election Day," Bush told the crowds at both stops.
The elections bill includes many of the recommendations made by a task force Bush appointed to take a hard look at the problems.
Bush said he has often wondered whether Florida would have responded as quickly if the same problem had occurred in another state.
"It's human nature to respond to a crisis here and now, and $32-million is a scarce commodity in the legislative process," he said.
Former Secretary of State Jim Smith, co-chairman of the task force, accompanied the governor on the swing across the state.
"This is a hell of a day for Florida, let's have fun and enjoy it," Smith told the crowd in Palm Beach.
Responding to questions from reporters, Bush said he would support a move to make all elections supervisors non-partisan. Legislators did not include it in this year's bill.
"It's a ministerial thing; there is no need to have an elected elections supervisor," Bush said. "It would be easier, and we already have school boards that are non-partisan."
Sen. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said he thinks the late night comics will no longer have Florida to kick around.
"We can say 'git along little doggies, there is nothing here for you,' " Posey said.
Both bill signing ceremonies were staged for the ceremony of it all. The actual bill, passed five days ago, has yet to be delivered to the governor's desk.
Bush was greeted by warm crowds at both stops. None of the protesters who have frequently demonstrated over the election were at either stop.