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Year 2000 Highlights Palast Update

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hanging chads and recounts memory lane

Update Feb. 10, 2007 We finally found verification to what we had pointed out years ago.  The Florida election boards and local election officials were always ultimately responsible for removing or retaining names of those referenced as ineligible voters by ChoicePoint.
 
Posted on Sunday, February 05, 2006
John Gideon
Here I am again. No matter how much I try to stay away from here I keep getting drug in. It needs to be made crystal clear that ChoicePoint has not, does not now, and, they say, will never have anything to do with elections. They purchased DBT (DATABASE TECHNOLOGIES, INC,) after the 2000 election and it does not do election data bases any longer. The inclusion of ChoicePoint in this piece is incorrect.

DBT got a contract with the state of Florida and warned the state that the information they were putting together was not accurate because it included many names that did not belong on the list. The state told them that's what they wanted because they expected the counties to scrub the list. The counties didn't do that. That is NOT DBTs fault and is certainly not the fault of ChoicePoint.

Greg Palast, from whom you must have gotten much of this information, knows the facts but refuses to admit that his reporting was wrong. So he has just continued the lie.
 
 
Posted on Friday, July 21, 2006
 
On Feb. 6 I made a statement on this string about Greg Palast. I wish to publicly retract that statement and apologize for a personal statement I made about him.
 
 

Updated with find Feb. 10, 2007
 
Comment to BBV Forum from ChoicePoint James Lee Posted on Tuesday, February 21, 2006
 

Nov. 7-Dec. 9

Palm Beach Post Staff Reports
Sunday, December 10, 2000

Tuesday, Nov. 7: Election Day

Wednesday, Nov. 8: The first lawsuit challenging the Palm Beach County "butterfly" ballot is filed.

Thursday, Nov. 9: Voters file four more lawsuits in Palm Beach County requesting a revote. The Rev. Jesse Jackson leads a protest rally in West Palm Beach. Gore's campaign calls for a manual recount in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Saturday, Nov. 11: Bush files a federal lawsuit seeking to block hand recounts in four Florida counties, including Palm Beach.

Sunday, Nov. 12: The Palm Beach County Elections Canvassing Board orders a hand recount of 462,657 ballots.

Tuesday, Nov. 14: Secretary of State Katherine Harris announces a 300-vote lead for Bush.

Wednesday, Nov. 15: The Florida Supreme Court denies Harris' petition to halt hand recounts. Harris announces she will certify Florida's ballots Saturday and will not accept results of hand recounts.

Thursday, Nov. 16: The state Supreme Court rules hand recounts can continue. The recount begins in Palm Beach County.

Friday, Nov. 17: The state Supreme Court blocks Harris from certifying the vote and schedules a Monday hearing on allowing the hand recounts.

Saturday, Nov. 18: Bush wins the overseas absentee ballot count by 1,380 votes to Gore's 750.

Tuesday, Nov. 21: The state Supreme Court says Harris must accept results of recounts until 5 p.m. Nov. 26.

Wednesday, Nov. 22: Amid a mob scene, Miami-Dade County elections officials cancel their recount.

Friday, Nov. 24: The U.S. Supreme Court agrees to consider Bush's appeal of recount procedures.

Saturday, Nov. 25: The Broward County board finishes its recount, giving Gore a net gain of 534 votes.

Sunday, Nov. 26: The Palm Beach County canvassing board fails to meet deadline, submits partial results. Harris rejects Palm Beach County's recount totals because they are incomplete. She certifies Bush the winner by 537 votes.

Monday, Nov. 27: Gore's legal team files papers in Leon County courts objecting to Florida's vote certification.

Wednesday, Nov. 29: Leon County Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls orders 1.1 million ballots from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties sent to Tallahassee; Gore asks the state Supreme Court to order an immediate recounting of 14,000 disputed ballots.

Thursday, Nov. 30: Palm Beach County's 462,644 ballots are shipped to Tallahassee.

Friday, Dec. 1: The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the case of Bush vs. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board. The state Supreme Court rules against a revote sought by Palm Beach County voters who said the butterfly ballot was confusing and illegal. Democrats sue the Martin County Canvassing Board, seeking to throw out the county's 9,773 absentee ballots because Republicans were allowed to alter ballot request forms.

Sunday, Dec. 3: The Justice Department says it will gather information on allegations that voting officials hindered minorities at the polls.

Monday, Dec. 4: Leon Circuit Judge Sauls rejects Al Gore's request for a manual recount of thousands of contested ballots. Gore's lawyers later file an appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court returns the state Supreme Court's decision for clarification.

Tuesday, Dec. 5: The state Supreme Court announces it will hear oral arguments today Thursday in Gore's appeal of Sauls' ruling.

Wednesday, Dec. 6: The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejects appeals by Republicans and the Bush campaign challenging the validity of manual recounts in Florida.

Thursday, Dec. 7: Florida Supreme Court justices hear arguments in Gore's appeal for a hand recount of disputed ballots in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Friday, Dec. 8: In a 4-3 vote, the Florida Supreme Court orders a manual recount of at least 43,432 under-votes around the state. Included in the hand count will be about 9,000 disputed ballots from Miami-Dade County. Bush appeals the ruling. In Leon County Circuit Court, judges refuse to throw out 25,000 absentee ballots from Martin and Seminole counties that Democrats said were illegal.

Saturday, Dec. 9: A statewide reexamination of disputed ballots starts early in the day but is halted at the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the court issues a stay and sets oral arguments for Monday on the underlying issues of a Florida Supreme Court ruling released Friday. Gore had been awarded a weekend recount by the state court when it reversed a circuit court decision concerning disputed ballots. The U.S. Supreme Court decision came shortly after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Bush's request to stop the recount but ordered state officials not to change the previously certified results until further rulings.

-- Kimberly Miller

Voting-machine errors discovered 4 years ago

By George Bennett and Marc Caputo, Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 8, 2000

Elections officials were alarmed by an "unusually high" number of voters who had trouble punching their ballots for president on Palm Beach County's newest type of voting machine.

Another chapter in the dimpled chad drama surrounding this year's contested presidential election?

Actually, it happened four years ago.

Former Elections Supervisor Jackie Winchester said in a memo to state elections officials after the 1996 presidential election that the county had registered an unusual number of under-votes in 10 precincts that used new Data Punch machines.

A Palm Beach Post analysis last month found that precincts using Data Punch machines in this election had a 4.4 percent under-vote rate, compared with a 1.5 percent rate on older, more expensive Votomatic machines used elsewhere in the county. The Data Punch machines accounted for nearly half of all 10,311 under-votes in this year's election.

An under-vote is recorded when a voter skips a race or when the perforated "chad" next to a candidate's name isn't detached thoroughly enough to be read by a tabulating machine. Under-votes and attempts to count them have become key issues in Florida's close presidential race.

Winchester's memo doesn't name the 10 precincts, but she said Thursday she believed they were the precincts with the highest number of under-votes that year. Those precincts had a 16 percent under-vote rate in 1996.

The under-vote rate was 2.3 percent for the rest of the county in that year's presidential race between President Clinton and Bob Dole.

The 10 problem precincts used new Data Punch machines, Winchester's memo said.

In one Palm Beach Gardens precinct that year, 416 ballots, or 22.6 percent, were under-votes.

The problem was addressed at the time by replacing styluses on the machines. All the precincts saw marked drops in the rate of undervotes, but five of the 10 did not use Data Punch machines this year.

Winchester says she now thinks the under-vote problem went beyond faulty styluses and resurfaced in some precincts during this year's presidential race.

"I don't think the styluses were the problem. It think it's the equipment," Winchester said Thursday. Winchester, who retired shortly after the 1996 election, has said she believes the rubber backing on Data Punch machines hardens and makes it more difficult for voters to punch chads.

That theory is disputed by county elections officials and by Election Data Corp., which makes the Data Punch machines.

Company officials could not be reached late Thursday. They have said their machines are made of the same materials as Votomatics.

The rubber backings on both machines are cleaned of chads and treated with a protective, silicone spray after each elections cycle.

The company and county elections officials also have said under-votes are the fault of voters and not the machines.

California's San Diego County and Cook County in Illinois both use the Data Punch and have reported no serious problems.

The county's 1,700 Data Punch machines were all purchased while Winchester was elections chief.

About two months before the 1996 election, Election Data Corp. delivered 250 new Data Punch units for $24,000. Over the previous eight years, the elections office had purchased 1,450 other Data Punches for $35,335, according to records provided by the supervisor's office.

Since the 1996 election, the supervisor's office hasn't bought anything else from the company.

Nor has it bought any extra styluses since a 1996 pre-election purchase of 2,500 serrated-tipped models for $7,375. Styluses are attached to most voting machines.

Since Theresa LePore took office in January 1997, her office has bought only refurbished Votomatic machines. From September 1999 to June 1, 2000, LePore bought 470 Votomatics for $88,695.

Votomatics sell for about $190 apiece, while a Data Punch with a Poll Star booth costs about $100.

Tony Enos, the voting systems manager who drove the Ryder truck full of the county's ballots to Tallahassee last week, labeled as "ridiculous" the suggestions by Al Gore's campaign lawyers that under-votes can be caused by chad build-up in voting machines.

After hearing that argument during last Saturday's election contest hearing in Tallahassee, Enos on Tuesday purposefully stuffed thousands, maybe millions of chads, into a Votomatic and a Data Punch.

He invited a reporter to vote and see if chad buildup posed a problem. It didn't.

Enos said he doesn't know why the supervisor no longer buys the less-expensive Data Punch machines, which some precincts prefer because they're easier to set up, smaller and lighter than the Votomatics.

george_bennett@pbpost.com

marc_caputo@pbpost.com

P. B. County over-votes leapt sixfold over '96

By George Bennett and Joel Engelhardt, Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 8, 2000

Under-votes -- the dimpled chads upon which Al Gore has pinned his presidential hopes -- were more common in Palm Beach County in the 1996 presidential election than in this year's race, figures released Thursday show.

But there was a sixfold increase between 1996 and 2000 in the number of ballots rejected as over-votes because they were marked for more than one presidential candidate.

The figures drew little notice four years ago when President Clinton won Florida by more than 300,000 votes over Republican Bob Dole.

In that election, 2.87 percent of Palm Beach County voters either skipped the presidential race or failed to punch their ballots thoroughly enough for them to be read by tabulating machines.

This year's under-vote rate in Palm Beach County was 2.23 percent.

The breakdown of 1996 under- and over-votes was released Thursday by Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore in response to a request by The Palm Beach Post from four weeks ago.

Incidentally, there were 54,355 under-votes cast in LePore's first race for elections supervisor, in 1996, more than double the difference between her winning 190,581 votes and the 166,191 cast for challenger Laura Hanley. It's not unusual for races further down on the ballot to have a higher number of under-votes.

The number of over-votes in the presidential election soared from 3,073 in 1996 to 19,147 this year.

The over-vote rate increased from 0.75 percent in 1996, when there were four candidates listed on a single page, to 4.14 percent this year, when there were 10 candidates spread across two pages with a single column of punch-holes between them.

The county's over-votes -- which many observers say were caused by confusion over the county's "butterfly ballot" -- have drawn national attention.

Gore focuses on under-votes

But it is the under-votes in South Florida that are the focus of the Gore campaign's recount hopes. Gore backers say examining under-vote ballots by hand will reveal hundreds or thousands of dented, dimpled or "pregnant" chads that should be counted as votes.

George W. Bush campaign spokesman Tucker Eskew said the similarity between the 1996 and 2000 under-vote totals shows Gore is trying to create votes rather than count them.

"This confirms that a small but significant percentage of Floridians every election choose to not vote for president," said Eskew. "The other side's insistence on making up votes out of non-votes is just one of the ways they've tried to change the rules and read voters' minds."

But Gore campaign attorney Jack Corrigan said the under-vote figures merely show that punch-card voting systems consistently fail to count votes. He noted that counties with optical scan systems tend to have lower under-vote rates.

"There's no reason to believe that someone is less likely to be interested in the presidential race because their county chooses a Votomatic instead of an optical scan machine. That's why imperfectly punched ballots ought to be counted as votes," Corrigan said.

A Post computer analysis, published Nov. 17, showed that counties using punch cards had 3.8 percent of presidential ballots miscast, compared with just 1.3 percent in counties using optical scanning.

County's 1996 under-vote total alarmed former Supervisor of Elections Jackie Winchester, who sent a memo to state elections officials noting "unusually high" under-votes in 10 precincts.

Those precincts had new Data Punch machines, which are similar to Votomatics. Faulty styluses were blamed for the problem, Winchester recalled. The styluses were replaced, the elections office's voting equipment manager, Tony Enos, said Thursday.

Even without the unusual figures in the 10 precincts, the under-vote rate in the rest of the county in 1996 was 2.3 percent, or slightly higher than this year's rate.

Winchester said she now suspects under-votes are caused not by styluses but by hardened rubber backing on some voting machines.

A Post analysis last month found that precincts with Data Punch machines had a 4.4 percent under-vote rate, compared with a 1.5 percent rate for precincts using the more popular Votomatic model.

Winchester said voting machine problems must contribute to under-vote rates because there were high under-vote rates in many heavily Jewish precincts this year.

"There's no way you could convince me -- and not the Bush people either, if they would admit it -- that those people didn't want to vote for Joe Lieberman," Winchester said.

Over-votes in pro-Gore areas

The high number of over-votes this year occurred most often in predominantly black and elderly precincts, two of Gore's strongholds. In some of those precincts, 15 percent of the votes were thrown out because voters mistakenly punched holes for more than one candidate.

In 1996, when voters chose from Clinton, Dole, Ross Perot and Harry Browne, many of those same precincts recorded over-votes of 3 percent or less.

For instance, in the county's 38 predominantly black precincts, over-votes accounted for 2.5 percent of the ballots cast for president in 1996 but 12 percent this year.

In the Lakes of Delray Precinct 162G, where 85 percent of the voters are seniors, over-votes accounted for 8.5 percent of the ballots in November but 1.2 percent in 1996.

With 10 candidates on this year's ballot, LePore decided to alternate the names on two facing pages -- creating the "butterfly" layout -- rather than shrink the words to fit a single page.

Voters complained that they punched the second hole, a vote for Pat Buchanan, thinking they were voting for Gore. A hand count of four precincts found that of 144 double votes cast, 80 had votes for Gore and Buchanan.

Over-votes were hardly a factor in the March 2000 primaries. Even in the crowded Republican field, with six candidates, 0.45 percent of the ballots were thrown out because voters marked more than one choice. Democrats recorded the same percentage with just two candidates, Gore and Bill Bradley.

The only conclusion to be reached, Democrats say, is that the butterfly ballot is to blame.

"It's a perfect indication of why we need a new system," Democratic county Commissioner Burt Aaronson said. "I'm not laying the blame on anybody but if the ballot was made clearer, there is nobody who would deny that Al Gore would be president of the United States today."

george_bennett@pbpost.com

joel_engelhardt@pbpost.com

 

LePore: Ballot 'probably not wisest thing'

By George Bennett, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 16, 2000

WEST PALM BEACH -- Palm Beach County's infamous butterfly ballot design was chosen from among three or four possibilities and, in retrospect, was "probably . . . not the wisest thing to do," Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore said Friday.

But LePore, in her first interview since the Nov. 7 election, said voters still should have been able to mark their ballots properly. And she rejected the idea that confusion over the county's two-page ballot design might have cost Al Gore the presidency.

LePore's argument for voter responsibility also extended to the "dimpled," "pregnant" and "hanging" chads that were a central part of the recount drama in Palm Beach County and throughout Florida.

Although she cast the deciding vote on the county's canvassing board in favor of a countywide hand recount, LePore, 45, said she now has serious doubts about the accuracy of such recounts and the wisdom of studying dented or partially punched chads to try to determine voter intent.

LePore also criticized Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris and local Democratic leaders for injecting partisanship into the recount. And LePore, who is a Democrat, said she's considering switching her own registration to one without party affiliation.

She spoke in soft, composed tones throughout most of an hourlong interview in the office of lawyer Bob Montgomery. But when asked at one point about her feelings during the five-week, post-election saga, she appeared to be on the verge of tears.

"The whole thing has been overwhelming," said LePore, who then paused for several seconds.

LePore became the center of international attention -- and the defendant in at least 25 lawsuits -- immediately after the election when Gore supporters complained they had been confused by the two-page ballot.

The 10 presidential candidates were listed on two facing pages with a single column of punch holes between them. Gore was the second candidate listed on the left page, but the third punch hole down from the top. Many Democrats said they mistakenly voted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, who was the second punch hole from the top and the first candidate on the right page.

Florida's Supreme Court ruled this month that the ballot was legal and rejected lawsuits seeking a new presidential election in Palm Beach County.

LePore, dubbed "Madame Butterfly" in some publications, said she was fully responsible for the decision to use the ballot layout. But, she said, the butterfly ballot was actually designed by her voting systems manager, Tony Enos. Enos is best known as the man who drove the Ryder truck loaded with Palm Beach County ballots to Tallahassee last month.

Around September, LePore said, Enos came up with three or four options for fitting the 10 candidates and space for a write-in on the ballot.

"Staff had put it on one page and the type was very small and it was scrunched together," LePore said. She wanted larger type so the candidates' names would be easier to read for the county's many elderly voters.

Another Enos design had some candidates grouped near the top of the left page and others toward the bottom of the right page, with a few of the names directly across from one another.

LePore didn't like the imbalance.

"The candidates' names were up here and the right-hand side were down here and I had told them to kind of move it up to make it look nice," LePore said. "I was trying to make it look nice rather than one (group) up here and another group down here."

The Palm Beach Post made a public records request Friday to see the rejected ballot designs, but LePore replied in writing that they were "draft designs (working copies) and therefore not kept as part of our files."

The final ballot design was selected in early October. LePore said it was mailed to all 159 candidates on the ballot -- including the Gore and George W. Bush campaigns -- and to the local Democratic and Republican party chairmen.

No one complained, LePore said.

Nor were there any complaints about the design when 655,000 sample ballot booklets were mailed to voters in October, LePore said. Some voters would later say that the sample ballot wasn't an accurate reflection of the real thing because it didn't show where the column of punch holes would be.

"I can honestly say I've never heard a complaint about the sample ballot not showing the holes," LePore said.

On Election Day, LePore said, she first became aware of voter concerns around 10 a.m. when two men from Greenacres came to the elections office in West Palm Beach to complain.

Even then, LePore said, she thought "that maybe it was an isolated incident."

By midafternoon, however, LePore knew that wasn't the case. She was visited by County Commissioner Burt Aaronson, state Rep. Lois Frankel, state Sen. Ron Klein and U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, all Democrats.

More phone calls complaining about the ballot came in later on Election Day from voters "saying they left the polling place knowing they voted for the wrong person," LePore said.

But, LePore said Friday, "if you knew when you were there that you were voting for the wrong person, you should have received, asked for, another ballot and done it properly."

The 3,407 votes Buchanan received in the initial machine count did not shock LePore at first, she said, because he had received 8,709 votes in a 1996 Republican primary. But LePore said she looked at precinct-by-precinct returns the day after the election and, seeing Buchanan support from Democratic precincts, realized some voters had been confused.

"I think I had some responsibility with, I mean -- I tried to make the ballot so that voters would have an easier time reading it and it was probably, (in) hindsight, not the wisest thing to do," LePore said. "But if it would have been on one page, the way things were going, I probably would have been criticized because the print was too small."

Even if the ballot was not ideal, LePore said voters had ample opportunity to understand it.

"I will say that voters all got a sample ballot and there are instructions on the sample ballot on how to vote. When they walk into a machine, there's a big sticker inside the lid of the machine that says this is how you do it, check the back of your card, make sure the holes are punched through clearly. They're offered a demonstration when they come in on how to use the equipment."

LePore dismisses the idea that Palm Beach County cost Gore the election.

"All I can say to that is Palm Beach County is one county out of how many thousand around the country," LePore said.

"That seemed to be an excuse for Palm Beach County," LePore continued. "I'm sure if other counties around the country would have had the same scrutiny we had that they would have found things."

Although the butterfly ballot controversy raged immediately after the election, LePore had no reprieve from the public spotlight. As one of three elections canvassing board members, she was part of the 2 a.m. vote on Nov. 12 to order a countywide hand recount of more than 462,000 ballots.

With County Commissioner Carol Roberts insisting on a countywide recount and County Judge Charles Burton opposed, LePore was the swing vote.

The vote came after a marathon hand recount of 1 percent of county ballots. While that sample recount was going on, LePore said she was pressured by local Democrats to support a countywide recount.

She wouldn't name those pressuring her, but described them as "party leaders, elected officials, John Q. Publics who thought they were big in the party."

LePore voted for a recount "not because of what they said but because I thought it was the best thing to do."

While Democrats were pressing her to support a countywide recount, LePore said, two representatives from the Division of Elections there to "assist" the ballot counting seemed to be pushing against a wider hand count.

"It became somewhat apparent that they were trying to do more than assist, that being trying to influence their side of the story" LePore said.

"I lost some respect for a lot of people because elections are supposed to be nonpartisan as far as how they're run," LePore said.

LePore said she's reevaluating her own Democratic affiliation.

"I don't know yet. I'm not changing to Republican, if that's what you're asking. If anything, I'll change to no party. It's too fresh in my mind right now to make any decisions," she said.

Asked specifically about Harris, who was a honorary co-chairwoman of Bush's campaign in Florida, LePore said: "When you have the chief elections officer having the appearance of perhaps not being nonpartisan, it's troubling."

LePore said she was disappointed that Harris did not extend an initial certification deadline to accommodate hand recounts and that she refused to accept Palm Beach County's hand recount results on Nov. 26 after the county missed a court-imposed deadline.

But LePore seemed to share Harris' skepticism about the accuracy of hand recounts.

While refusing to second-guess her initial support of the countywide recount, LePore voiced concerns about the validity of the results.

She doubted, for instance, that a second recount of the same ballots would produce the same figures.

"Any time you interject humans into a process, the objectivity goes out. Plus (there is) human error," LePore said.

"You have to rely on the tabulating machines," LePore said. "The machines will not pick up voter error, and that's basically what was being looked for in the manual recount."

LePore's definition of voter error includes partially punched ballots.

"I consider that voter error, because the voter is instructed to clean the back of the card," LePore said. "Just because a chad is dimpled or pregnant or whatever you want to call it does not mean the voter intended to punch that out. The voter may have made a mistake and decided to go on."

She also dismissed the theory that "chad build-up" -- an accumulation of punched out ballot pieces filling up a voting machine -- might have made it difficult for some voters to punch their ballots thoroughly.

"That was totally unfounded," said LePore, who said her staffer, Enos, had filled a machine with chads and still had no difficulty punching a ballot.

LePore said the county's voting machines "are basically on lock down" and her office will examine them to see if there were any problems with them that made it more difficult for voters to punch their ballots properly.

A Palm Beach Post analysis last month found that precincts using Data Punch machines had nearly three times the rate of under-votes, those in which tabulating machines could not detect a decision, as precincts using Votomatic machines.

Even before this election, LePore has said, she was eyeing a new voting system to replace punch cards. LePore, who was reelected to a second four-year term this year without opposition, plans to pursue that goal soon.

First, though, she hopes to take a breather from the elections.

"I was in prison for three weeks there" during the recount, she said. And since then, "I have not had that crash-and-burn time. . . . I haven't had time to just relax."

She has no intention of getting extended relaxation, however. Municipal elections start next month. And, despite calls from some critics for her resignation, LePore plans on sticking around.

"I'm elected for four more years and we'll see what happens then," she said Friday. "I love my job."

george_bennett@pbpost.com

Panel sees end to punch-card system

By Mary Ellen Klas, Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau
Wednesday, January 10, 2001

TALLAHASSEE -- Persuaded that the courts have virtually ordered Florida to use uniform voting technology, the governor's task force on election reform Tuesday concluded the state can never return to the punch-card system in a statewide election.

But the 21-member panel stopped short of endorsing the optical ballot scanning machines for each precinct.

"There is an emerging consensus on them, but there are still some things we need to understand," said Edward "Tad" Foote, co-chairman of the governor's Select Task Force on Election Procedures, Standards and Technology and outgoing president of the University of Miami.

After hearing from five election experts over two days, the task force agreed to a list of 20 proposed reforms to Florida's election procedures, standards and technology. The ideas range from offering Internet voting for military personnel to establishing a permanent committee to make frequent recommendations about updating Florida's voting systems. And, Foote said, they represent "just the beginning" of their list.

Because of the razor-thin presidential election that thrust Florida's voting systems into the national spotlight, the panel concluded its top task is to move the state closer to a statewide voting system that is clear, consistent, nondiscriminatory and fair.

"For the immediate future, if we don't have uniform technology, then we open the door for creative warriors to continue to wreck havoc on the system -- and they will," said Jim Smith, former secretary of state and the panel's other co-chairman.

The task force will continue to debate whether to endorse the use of a computer touch-screen voting system rather than the optically scanned ballots, Smith said. Many task force members said they believe the optical scanners are the most proven, cost-efficient system available today.

The panel heard from Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho that the $45 million suggested by state election officials as the cost of installing optical scanners in the 4,555 precincts in the state that don't have them is as much as $20 million too high.

Sancho, whose county had the lowest lost ballot rate in the state, introduced the optical scan system in each of Leon County's 120 precincts for $750,000 eight years ago. Many counties with punch cards could eliminate much of that cost by using the privacy booths they already own, he said.

One issue the task force debated at length but came to no agreement was whether to recommend the state change its policy to permanently restrict the voting rights of felons.

Now, felons may have their voting rights restored only if they go through a hearing before the governor and Cabinet, a process that task force member Daryl Jones, a Democratic senator from Miami, called a "$10,000 undertaking" and one most poor felons cannot afford.

Jones said he has serious concerns about taxing felons without representation.

"Many are now working tax-paying citizens and don't have the ability to vote for the person who is going to spend their tax money," he said.

mary_ellen_klas@pbpost.com

Fixing the voting system

Recommendations under consideration by the Select Task Force on Election Procedures, Standards and Technology:

• Create a uniform voting system.

• Establish a state fund to assist counties with matching dollars to update their voting equipment and earmark a percentage for voter education.

• Give supervisors of elections the ability to appeal their budgets to the governor and Cabinet if they are not given enough money to pay for a sufficient election system.

• Equip all polls and voter registration places with continuous-loop voter education videotapes.

• Create a Voter Bill of Rights that would be posted at all polling place.

• Establish training standards for poll workers.

• Create standards for ballot design and allow seniors to receive ballots in large print.

• Establish standards for maintaining and testing technology.

• Offer a provisional ballot to people whose voting registration can't be validated at the polls.

• Extend hours of election until 8 p.m. and establish standards for releasing results after all the polls close.

• Require that supervisors of elections be elected on a nonpartisan basis.

• Establish Internet-based voting for absentee ballots.

-- Mary Ellen Klas

Law of Florida in effect Year 2000
DE 98-14
Requesting and Delivering Absentee Ballots
September 16, 1998

106.23(2), 101.62(1),
101.62(4)(b), Fla. Stat., as
Amended by Ch. 98-129, Laws of Florida

TO: The Honorable Tom Slade, Chairman, Republican Party of Florida, Post Office Box 311, Tallahassee, Florida 32302

PREPARED BY: Division of Elections

This is in response to your request for an advisory opinion regarding absentee ballot requests pursuant to chapter 98-129, Laws of Florida. You are the Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. Therefore, pursuant to section 106.23(2), Florida Statutes, the Division of Elections has authority to render this opinion to you. According to your letter, there is some variation among counties with respect to what constitutes an effective absentee ballot request, particularly when candidates, political parties, or other individuals or groups become involved in the absentee ballot request process. Accordingly, you ask for clarification as to what information is required in order for an elector to properly request an absentee ballot. To more easily answer your questions we have rephrased them.

1. What information must an elector provide to a county supervisor of elections in order to properly request an absentee ballot?

2. Are there any limitations on third parties delivering absentee ballot requests to a supervisor of elections?

For the reasons set forth below, an elector must provide his name, his address, the last four digits of his social security number, his signature, if it is a written request submitted by the elector, and his voter registration identification number, when requesting an absentee ballot. The elector must provide this information, whether requesting an absentee ballot by telephone or in writing. A person may request an absentee ballot on behalf of an elector, but only if the person making the request is a member of the elector’s immediate family or is the elector’s legal guardian. Immediate family members, etc., who are requesting ballots on behalf of electors must provide their name, address, their complete social security number, their driver’s license number (if available), their relationship to the elector, and for a written request, their signature. These provisions do not prevent a political party or a candidate from mailing absentee ballot requests to the elector and the elector then mailing or personally delivering the request to the supervisor. Likewise, it is not unlawful for a candidate or political party to deliver the elector’s request in person or through the mail.

Prior to the 1998 amendments to the Florida Election Code, ch. 98-129, Laws of Fla., section 101.62, Florida Statutes, provided that supervisors could accept requests for absentee ballots from an elector or from any person designated by an elector. 101.62(1), Fla. Stat. (1997). The request could be made in person, by mail, or by telephone. Id. The 1997 law went on to provide that supervisors "...deliver or mail an absentee ballot to each elector by whom a request for that ballot has been made." 101.62(4)(b), Fla. Stat. (1997). Based on the former statutory language, the Division opined that candidates could "mass mail" unsolicited absentee ballot requests to potential voters. Op. Div. Elect. 90-31, (July 16, 1990). The opinion also concluded that the ballots could be returned to an address other than the office of the supervisor of elections for subsequent delivery to the supervisor by a third party. Id.

In 1998, the Legislature amended subsections (1) and (4) of section 101.62, Florida Statutes, to provide the additional requirements for requesting absentee ballots. 13, ch. 98-129, Laws of Fla. These amendments struck the words "in person, by mail, or by telephone" and in lieu thereof inserted the words "in person or in writing." Subsection (1), 13, Laws of Fla. In addition, language was added requiring the name, address, last four digits of the elector’s social security number, and the elector’s voter registration identification number in those cases where the elector is requesting a ballot, and the elector’s signature (if the elector is also the requester and it is a written request). Id. If a member of the elector’s immediate family or the elector’s legal guardian is requesting the ballot on behalf of the elector, the requestor must provide his name, address, complete social security number, driver’s license number, if available, describe his relationship to the elector, and his signature, if it is a written request. Id. (emphasis added).

Thus, it is readily apparent that nothing in the 1998 amendments to section 101.62, Florida Statutes, prevents electors from returning a completed absentee ballot request form that has been mailed or delivered to them by a third party. The only thing that has changed is that the elector requesting a ballot, or the immediate family member or legal guardian, must provide additional information as a means of verifying their identity. Therefore, there is nothing in the 1998 amendments to this section that causes us to depart from our opinion in DE 90-31, which permits the mailing of absentee ballot requests by candidates or political parties in order that the elector can complete the form and return it to the supervisor. The party, in this instance, is not requesting an absentee ballot on behalf of an elector, they are mailing a request form to the elector so that the elector can complete it and personally request a ballot themselves.

What has changed is the requirement that electors or persons requesting ballots on behalf of an elector must provide additional identifying information in order that voters who choose to do so may exercise the privilege and convenience of voting absentee. (emphasis added). These additional requirements are an effort by the legislature to preserve the privilege while at the same time providing additional security with respect to the handling of the ballots. See Scheer, et.al. v. City of Miami, S.D. Fla. 1998, Case No. 98-0835-CIV-DAVIS, In Re: The Matter of the Protest of Election Returns and Absentee Ballots in the November 4, 1997 Election for the City of Miami, Florida, 707 So.2d 1170 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1998).

Summary

Candidates, political parties, or other persons may provide absentee ballot request forms to electors in order that the elector can complete the form and return it to the supervisor of elections by mail, in person, or by delivery to a third party for transmittal to the supervisor. If the request is from an elector, it must include the elector’s name, address, the last four digits of the elector’s social security number, and the elector’s voter registration number. If the requester is the elector, the elector must sign the request. If the request is from a member of the elector’s immediate family or the elector’s legal guardian, either of whom is requesting a ballot on behalf of an elector, the request must include the requester’s name, the requester’s address, the requester’s complete social security number, if available, the requester’s drivers license number, the requester’s relationship to the elector, and the requester’s signature, if the request is in writing.

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