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Here come the election bills

If there's one thing state lawmakers agree on, it's that some changes need to be made to Florida's voting system.

By DIANE RADO

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 11, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Charges of voter fraud and irregularities in the presidential election have embarrassed Florida throughout the world.

Expect the Florida Legislature to try to repair the state's image.

Key lawmakers said Friday they expect a flurry of bills in coming months designed to improve Florida's voting system; from requiring the same tabulation systems in every county, to making sure ballots look the same throughout the state.

Even fiscal conservatives in the Republican-led Legislature are willing to consider sending money to Florida's counties to make sure voting systems are modern and uniform statewide. Now, counties are responsible for financing their own voting systems, and the newest systems would cost tens of millions of dollars.

"I've heard people talking about having a uniform county-by-county system of tabulation; that the state ought to make one system for all, and if counties can't afford it, the state should step in," said state Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, who is expected to play a leadership role in the new administration of incoming Senate President John McKay.

McKay was cautious on Friday, saying he wants to move forward in a deliberative manner.

"I think my approach would be to figure out what the problem is. . . . There are certainly all sorts of stories right now, some of them are fact and some of them are fiction," McKay said.

"If we need to do something to update the voting system, then we certainly can do that. But I don't think it's appropriate to overreact based on confusion on one ballot."

The confusion this week was in connection with the so-called "butterfly" punch hole ballot in Palm Beach County that spurred controversy and lawsuits. Some voters who said they thought they voted for Vice President Al Gore now believe they voted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan.

Other counties have punch hole ballots as well. Still others have ballots that require voters to fill in bubbles with a pen or pencil.

Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, said this week that he plans to file legislation that would require each county to use the same type of ballot for statewide elections.

Lawmakers are "going to be filing all kinds of things," predicted Sen. Jim Horne, R-Orange Park, who is expected to be the new Ways and Means chairman in the state Senate.

He also favors the same ballot for all counties rather than the different formats used now. "I can't for the life of me think of a reason why that would not be a good thing," Horne said.

"We need to make sure people have confidence in the voting system," he added.

State Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who will be majority leader in the House, said he wants to hear first from counties before "micromanaging" local elections supervisors, who are elected public officers.

"I'm a big believer -- and I think the speaker (House Speaker Tom Feeney) is, too -- that before we jump the gun, let's hear from those who are the experts," Fasano said.

"If they come to us and say we want to show you a system, and we need assistance, I think the speaker and members of the House of Representatives would very much want to look at the system and look into providing assistance," Fasano said.

Tallahassee attorney Ronald Labasky is the lobbyist for the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections. He said Friday that the supervisors' legislative agenda for the 2001 session included such topics as rewriting some of the election code and eliminating Florida's second primary election.

After the controversy that has unfolded this week, Labasky said, "I think we're probably going to have some suggestions" on revising that agenda.

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