Election Officials Move to Avoid ‘Another Florida’

By: - November 5, 2001 12:00 am

Election officials in two states and host of cities, towns and counties holding elections tomorrow (11/6) have put in place a number of voting reforms to avert “another Florida” as they prepare for the first major balloting since Republican George Bush defeated Democrat Al Gore in last year’s disputed presidential race.

“It’s a reaction to last November. We’re taking steps to make sure we won’t be another Florida,” said John Sullivan, the director of elections for Atlanta and the rest of Fulton County, Ga.

Bush defeated Gore for the presidency by a electoral vote margin so close that the outcome in Florida, where there were widespread complaints of voting irregularities, made the difference. The winner of that state was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

As 13 cities in Georgia test state-of-the art touch-screen voting machines, voters using older equipment elsewhere have for the first time received sample ballots in the mail explaining how to ensure they completely punch through the chad when they vote.

In Virginia, where voters will determine the state’s next governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and members of the House of Delegates, new standards have been put in place to count punch cards in the event of a recount.

Likewise, in Florida, where voters in some cities will pick new mayors and city councils, election officials say chad-counting standards will help avoid delays and ambiguities as punch cards make their final appearance in elections.

Ohio voters casting ballots in municipal races in Cleveland and Cincinnati will have poll worker-run demonstration booths telling them how to use punch cards properly. New recount standards that determine what constitutes a punch card vote will also be used throughout Ohio.

Seattle and other jurisdictions in Washington will use new recount standards in case of a close race.

While the changes will go unnoticed by voters at the polls, Brendan Gorman of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections promises the new system will be “a little quicker and more accurate” in counting votes.

Tuesday’s elections will also offer a chance for a number of jurisdictions in Texas, Georgia and Virginia to give real-world field tests of state-of-the-art touch-screen voting systems.

Georgia’s effort will be the largest and perhaps most significant. In all, 13 cities will test six different types of touch-screen machines. The results could play a key role in determining what system will be purchased for the entire state when the Peach State moves to a statewide voting system in 2004.

In other election reform news:

  • Task forces in Virginia and Ohio bucked the trend across the country and came out in defense of multiple kinds of voting in their states. Virginia’s joint legislative subcommittee on election process and technology recommended (10/19) that the state “continue utilizing a variety of voting systems on a local option basis.” The panel also concluded “no one voting system has proven more reliable and accurate than any other.” In Ohio, a decision by a state task force (10/30) to continue using punch cards in the 67 counties that still use them roiled Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell. Blackwell, who wants to rid Ohio of punch cards. Blackwell says he is examining whether he has the executive authority to do away with the maligned voting system without the legislature’s approval.

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