MEDIA WATCH: Second voting fiasco further erodes Florida's election image

Everyone recalls how Florida bungled its way through the 2000 Presidential election and the saga of the butterfly ballots and hanging chads. The September 10 primary elections were an opportunity for the state to show that it had learned from its mistakes and was now a model for voting efficiency.

Everyone recalls how Florida bungled its way through the 2000 Presidential election and the saga of the butterfly ballots and hanging chads. The September 10 primary elections were an opportunity for the state to show that it had learned from its mistakes and was now a model for voting efficiency.

However, the day suffered from a wide range of problems, mostly derived from malfunctioning computerized voting machines and poorly trained volunteers at the voter precincts. As a result, polls opened hours late, even delaying Democratic gubernatorial candidate Janet Reno from casting her vote. As Fort Lauderdale's Sun Sentinel (September 11) acknowledged, "The host of problems...contributed to a national image that the Sunshine State cannot hold a proper election, cannot guarantee that every vote counts." It is still unknown how many voters were disenfranchised due to the fiasco. Florida's investment of $125 million on computerized ATM-style voting machines was supposed to put an end to all of the confusion that marred the 2000 election. But coverage detailed a host of problems involving these machines, such as inability to correctly confirm the voter's keyed-in selection or malfunctioning optical scanners. One voter wearily voiced little confidence that the investment had been the panacea it was expected to be: "Anyone can screw up anything" (Orlando Sentinel, September 11). An editorial in the Orlando Sentinel (September 11) perhaps best summarized all of the mishaps of the debacle, including the grossly under-prepared poll workers who had no idea how to turn on the new equipment, let alone run it. The editorial read, "In one particularly idiotic case, poll workers in a Jacksonville precinct didn't realize for 90 minutes that they themselves were supposed to turn on machines." Half of the reports analyzed cited Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Jim Smith venting their frustration squarely in the direction of local county officials, especially in Miami-Dade and Broward, where most of the foul-ups took place. While it is still inordinately embarrassing and inconvenient to happen on his watch, there appeared to be far fewer fingers pointing the blame at the governor. Governor Bush's executive order to remedy the problems by keeping polls open an extra two hours was often cited as an attempt to remedy the situation. However, reports indicated that a number of poll workers disregarded the directive. The New York Times (September 11) reported, "Voters complained that poll workers had closed up and left early, saying they were tired." Reno was most often depicted as having the most to lose from the chaos, with the two counties most impacted located in her South Florida base of support. Furthermore, there were suggestions that this second instance of electoral meltdown has prompted several groups, including African Americans, to voice suspicions that they were being targeted for deliberate disenfranchisement. This whole story would be laughable if it weren't really happening. It sounds like a Seinfeld episode involving Jerry's parents in South Florida. Reno has yet to concede her loss in the election due to the fiasco, and is said to be keeping all options open as far as challenging the legitimacy of such a poorly run election. Given how badly the primary elections were handled, there are already concerns of how Florida will fair in the November contests. Twice is two times too many for this to happen.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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