Florida, talk of recount and worries about November
By Catherine Wilson
September 12, 2002
Despite a $32 million renovation, Florida's new
election system crashed in an embarrassment that, like the 2000
election, left voters wondering whether their votes counted,
candidates pondering recounts and everyone asking who's to blame.
"You guys have NO idea what a mess this has been," state
election monitor Mike Lindsey wrote his Tallahassee bosses in a
pre-dawn e-mail from Broward County on Wednesday. "The mess was the
result of no planning, poor leadership, lack of 'process ownership'
and passing the buck."
The debacle, echoing the 2000 presidential
stalemate, drew even more scrutiny because, once again, Florida had
a high-profile race that was too close to call.
With 1 percent of
precincts still to report by late Wednesday, former Attorney General
Janet Reno ( news - web sites) trailed Tampa lawyer Bill McBride for
the Democratic gubernatorial nomination by about 11,000 votes out of
more than 1.3 million cast.
The voting problems ranged from
technical to human error. Workers had problems starting up new
touchscreen voting machines; ballot cards tore and couldn't be read
on optical scanning machines; technical problems delayed processing
the electronic cartridges used in the new touchscreen voting
In addition, some poll workers failed to show up; several
polling places opened late; some voters were wrongly turned away for
not showing a picture identification.
In response to complaints
Tuesday, Gov. Jeb Bush extended polling by two hours ó but that led
to yet more abuses: In Hollywood, workers at one precinct who had
not been told of the extension held the door shut and cursed at
The Miami Herald projected McBride as the race's eventual
winner in an article on its Web site Wednesday night. The newspaper
examined the number of registered Democrats in the remaining
precincts to be counted in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which
Reno had carried by more than a 2-1 margin.
Estimating turnout at
50 percent ó higher than the turnout in either county ó and assuming
that Reno won all the votes, McBride would still win the election by
more than 2,000 votes, the newspaper reported.
"That analysis is
similar to ours, although we would have a higher margin," said
McBride spokesman Alan Stonecipher.
Reno said, "What I will do is
go back and look at the figures and then comment."
demand a recount or sue to overturn the results. Secretary of State
Jim Smith said the race may be tight enough to automatically trigger
a statewide recount ó less than half a percent.
upset about the disenfranchisement," said Reno spokeswoman Nicole
Harburger. "People were not allowed their right to vote. ... That's
unacceptable to her."
Miami-Dade County was still tallying votes
Wednesday night. Counties had until noon Thursday to report
By Wednesday night, with 99 percent of
precincts reporting, McBride had 599,728 votes, or 45 percent,
compared with Reno's 588,555 votes, or 44 percent. State Sen. Daryl
Jones ( news, bio, voting record) had 155,738 votes, or 12 percent.
In all, 14 of the state's 67 counties reported voting problems,
including six of the seven that were sued after the 2000
On Wednesday, the blame game was fast and
Bush and voters pointed fingers at election chiefs in
Miami-Dade and Broward counties, which bought touchscreen machines
to replace punchcard equipment. All counties were required to get
rid of punchcard ballots.
"Let's be clear about this: 65 counties
got it right. Wasn't perfect, but they got it right," Bush said. "I
guarantee you that in November, the election will run much more
smoothly than the supervisors of elections allowed to occur."
Others, however, worried that Florida's troubles were a warning of
more to come. Several states scrapped punch-card ballots, bought new
equipment and changed their laws since the presidential race.
not just Florida. It's a national problem," said Rob Richie,
executive director of the Maryland-based Center for Voting and
Democracy. "We will have lots of problems in the next two months."
Tuesday's election contests in 12 states and the District of
Columbia brought other voting problems, though none on Florida's
In suburban Maryland, where a new computerized voting system
was in place, poll workers at each poll site had to tabulate results
on paper, then drive the results and computer memory cards to county
Ballot tabulation machines also failed in
North Carolina's Robeson County, forcing officials to slowly count
But once again, the nation looked at Florida and shrugged.
"I don't know if you can count this in any sense of the word as a
fair election," said Dario Moreno, head of a political think tank in
Many of the problems occurred in Miami-Dade and Broward
counties, which bought touchscreen machines from the same company,
Elections Systems & Software, and did not run mock elections to
test the machines.
Palm Beach and Hillsborough counties, which
bought different touchscreen machines, were relatively trouble free.
They ran mock elections in advance.