Amid Large Fla. Turnout, Fears Of Irregularities

Early voting in Florida appears on track to break records, but some have raised concerns about systems in place to verify voters' identities. Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning offers his insight on voting in the state.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Florida is one of the battleground states where voting systems are being closely watched. Record lines for early voting prompted Governor Charlie Crist to keep polling places open later. Complicating things is the controversy of Florida Voter Verification Law. It could force some 12,000 Floridians to cast provisional ballots. That happens if the driver's license or Social Security number on their voter registration does not match state databases. For more on Florida voting, I spoke with Kurt Browning. He's the state's secretary of state. He says things are running smoothly despite the extraordinarily early turnout at the polls.

Secretary KURT BROWNING (Florida Department of State): The number is 1.67 million as of - through close of business yesterday. Those numbers just popped the top right off of any records that we've ever seen with early voting. We anticipated once we saw the end of last week, with a million voters in Florida having voted, certainly doubling that. And I think we'll probably exceed the two million mark. At this rate, we will because we're seeing somewhere around 300,000 voters daily that are casting ballots statewide in Florida.

NORRIS: As you look ahead to next Tuesday, do these long lines foreshadow any problems that you might expect to see then?

Secretary BROWNING: Well, certainly I think that every voter that we can get through an early voting site or any voter that we can get to vote on absentee ballot will be, I think, to the advantage of election officials and the voters on Election Day. But I still think that you're going to see a number of people, a healthy number of people, headed to the polls next Tuesday. We are preparing for lines, and I say we. That includes local election officials. Although we will have seen a considerable number of people voting prior to next Tuesday, we still anticipate lines at the polls.

NORRIS: Several of the counties throughout Florida have moved to new voting systems, touch screen or optical scan. Have you had any problems with these voting systems?

Secretary BROWNING: No, we haven't. We rolled out the new optical scan voting systems for the August primary, and you know, we - as with any rollout of new voting systems, you would have some bumps here and there. But all in all they worked very well. These voting systems are now being used in these early voting sites, 267 early voting sites, across Florida. And they're performing admirably. I think the lines are just a result of civic engagement. People are excited, and they want to make sure they have the opportunity to cast a ballot for this election.

NORRIS: Sir, are you at all concerned that the "No match, no vote" provision might have a disproportionate impact on certain populations, people who tend to be more itinerant because of income or job status, because they're in college, because they've had their home foreclosed?

Secretary BROWNING: That is not - and I don't want to sound insensitive about that, but that is really - that doesn't factor into my rationales as far as whether I'm going to implement the law or not. I mean, regardless of who you are or what your income status is or what race you may be or what political party you may be a member of, the fact is when you complete the voter registration application, either the number matches or it doesn't.

It's immaterial - and the system is, quite honestly, it doesn't know what race you are, what political party you are. It's matching up those numbers against the name and birth dates and some other criteria. If in fact there's not a match, then it is investigated by the - my bureau, Voter Registration Services. So we've done everything we can to ensure that voters have the opportunity to get their registrations corrected or updated as well as having them - being given the opportunity to cast a ballot on Election Day in Florida.

NORRIS: When we think back to the election of 2000 in Florida, we certainly can't forget all those hanging chads and questions about the butterfly ballots. As secretary of state, have you tried to enforce or oversee the process to make sure that all the counties are using balloting systems that don't lead to those kinds of problems?

Secretary BROWNING: Well, I could assure you that there will not be any butterfly ballots in Florida, and there will not be any hanging chads in Florida. Obviously, we use one type of balloting system in Florida which is the optical scan systems. It's my department or bureaus that are responsible for certifying those systems. Both the Department of State and the local supervisors have worked hard to ensure that there is a great degree of uniformity in most of the counties and identifying where those risks might be and then what is our plan to address those leading up to Election Day as well as on Election Day.

NORRIS: Secretary Browning, thank you so much for your time.

Secretary BROWNING: Hey, thank you so much.

NORRIS: Kurt Browning is the secretary of state in Florida.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And next Tuesday night, Michele and I will be hosting a portion of the network's election coverage.

NORRIS: NPR and npr.org will be bringing you up-to-the-minute results on all the key races, plus analysis.

SIEGEL: And we'll have an interactive map at our Web site of voting problems at the polls. We'll create the map from reports that you submit to us at npr.org.

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