Election 2008

Florida Braces For Election Day Voting Woes

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Your Questions On Voting Rules

Listeners have submitted lots of questions about voting rules. Read our Q&A, in which NPR's Pam Fessler answers some of those most frequently asked.

With just over two weeks until the election, you probably can't blame Florida officials for being nervous.

Eight years ago, of course, a vote recount in the Sunshine State put the presidential election on hold for more than a month. This year, an expected high turnout, new voting machines and a controversial law raise the possibility of more problems at the Florida polls.

The man on the spot has been Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning. He's the person in charge of the state's election system. This week, he tried to reassure jittery state officials.

"We are not taking anything for granted. Florida is ready," Browning said.

Browning was called before the state's Republican governor, Charlie Crist, and his Cabinet to address growing concerns about the upcoming election, including reports of fraudulent new voter registrations submitted by the community group ACORN. Browning said his office had seen just a "scattering of isolated instances."

There was also a report that tens of thousands of ineligible felons may still be on the voter roles. Browning said his office is working on it, but begins by assuming that all registered voters are eligible until proven otherwise.

Finally, the state's chief financial officer, Alex Sink, expressed out loud what has been on the minds of many Floridians. "We all like media attention," Sink said. "But governor, I'm sure you don't want to be standing up in front of those cameras, explaining yet another fiasco in Florida around voting issues."

Long Lines Expected, Problems Feared

Browning says there will be no fiasco on Election Day. With voter turnout estimates as high as 85 percent, he says people should expect long lines at the polls. But he says that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"Lines are a sign of a healthy democracy," Browning says. "And we are expecting those lines to beat the polls. Now, that being said, it is very incumbent upon the supervisors of elections to make sure they are prepared like any good scout would be."

Adding to the potential problems on Election Day: Many of the largest counties in Florida have just bought new "optical scan" voting machines. In counties such as Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, it's the third voting system used since the 2000 election.

The head of the League of Women Voters in Palm Beach County, Pamela Goodman, says that while the optical scan voting system is an improvement, it's not foolproof.

"It has never been taxed or burdened or used to the extent that it's going to be used in November," Goodman says. "In August, we had 102,000 voters — a 13 percent turnout here in Palm Beach County with the new system, and there were some major problems with it."

When a recount was called in a close judicial election, 3,500 votes at first could not be found. Ultimately, a clerical error was blamed, the votes were counted and Goodman says procedures have been adopted to avoid a repeat in next month's election.

New Voting Law May Complicate Ballot Casting

The League of Women Voters and other groups are also concerned about a new Florida law that may become an issue on Election Day. It's called No Match/No Vote, and it requires new voter registrations to be matched against government records. If there's a discrepancy that's not resolved beforehand, voters who show up at the polls will only be allowed to cast provisional ballots.

That's one of the issues Democratic lawyer Chuck Lichtman and his army of attorneys will be monitoring on Nov. 4. Lichtman, in charge of voter protection for Florida Democrats, expects to have 5,000 lawyers at polling places across the state.

"We do think that the vast majority of the [voters] who show up — and they have an ID, and their picture is on that ID, and their name is on the register, and they can match that picture — there has to be a really good reason to say that this voter shouldn't vote," he says.

That's an area where Democrats disagree with Florida's Republican Secretary of State Browning. And it's an issue that may heat up when millions of Floridians turn out to vote on Nov. 4.



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