CVD homepage
What's new?
Online library
Order materials
Get involved!
About CVD

Palm Beach Post

Let voters express will through instant runoffs
December 14, 2002

A 15-member task force will suggest election changes to Gov. Bush this month, as Florida continues its two-year struggle to understand voting issues residents once took for granted.

Secretary of State Jim Smith, whose tenure and elected office expire Jan. 7, wants to leave his successors more power to enforce election laws. As task force co-chairman, he favors giving the appointed secretary of state authority to demand reports from county elections supervisors and order corrective action if problems arise.

Predictably, the proposal horrified supervisors, who fear loss of control to Tallahassee. But dismal performances by county officials in the Sept. 10 primary and the infamous 2000 general election underscore the need to have oversight from somewhere. Mr. Smith's intervention after embarrassing problems in the Broward and Miami-Dade primaries played an important role in making the November election run smoothly. Of course, if the governor appoints an incompetent secretary of state -- someone like Katherine Harris -- the potential for disaster remains.

The task force also recommends eliminating partisan runoff elections in 2004, then perhaps permanently. Until this year, when no candidate got a majority in the primary, the top two finishers went to a runoff. The legislature eliminated runoffs on a trial basis last spring, but they serve an important purpose in allowing voters to express their will and preventing fringe candidates and groups from influencing outcomes disproportionately. Supervisors oppose runoffs because they mean more work. Legislators dislike them because they cost more money.

The state could satisfy both concerns by adopting so-called instant runoffs, in which voters make second choices in races with three or more candidates. If no candidate claims a majority, the second choices come into play and decide the winner. The statewide upgrade of technology to touchscreens and scanners makes instant runoffs feasible and inexpensive.

Florida is due to receive about $170 billion from the federal government over the next three years for election reforms. Spending it on voter education, poll worker training and more new equipment will improve the system further. But Floridians have seen enough the past two years to know that the performance of the supervisors is the greatest and most precarious variable in how well elections run.

top of page

Copyright 2002     The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave. Suite 610, Takoma Park, MD 20912
(301) 270-4616        [email protected]