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January, 2001 News Archive

"The Florida Count: What went wrong..." (Miami Herald)

"The Herald is reviewing about 60,000 so-called undervotes in all 67 Florida counties, looking into voting irregularities to help explain what went wrong on Election Day." This is a continuing series of articles examining the presidential election controversy in Florida.

01/31/2001 "Makers of Voting Machines Ply Wares" (New York Times)

"Today's trade show was produced by another political odd couple - Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, and Senator Robert G. Torricelli, Democrat of New Jersey, fierce opponents who squared off last year as the chairmen of their respective parties' Senate re-election committees. They are co-sponsoring legislation to set up a permanent commission on electoral administration and offer matching grants to states and localities to upgrade equipment. Their bill would provide $500 million the first year and $100 million each year subsequently for an indefinite period."

"Two other senators - Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas - also announced today that they would offer even more money for equipment upgrading than they had previously announced."

"Jim Dickson, who is blind, the vice president of the National Organization on Disability, attended the fair today to caution decision makers not to ignore the disabled when they selected new machines. "In the rush to reform, people are picking inaccessible voting systems," he said. "There are 21 million Americans who don't vote who have disabilities," Mr. Dickson added, "and 20,000 polling places aren't accessible to wheelchairs, and 1.5 million can't hold a pencil but could use punch system.""

01/31/2001 "Hill Legislators Propose Study Of All Election Procedures" (Rueters)

"A bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed the creation of an independent commission to study changes in federal and local voting procedures yesterday in response to the disputed presidential election in Florida."

"In a related development, former presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter agreed to serve as honorary co-chairs of a National Commission on Federal Election Reform, which will be organized by the University of Virginia's Miller Center and the Century Foundation, a public policy think tank." Click here for press release.

01/31/2001 "50 ways to leave the lever (and update the way we vote)" (Commentary by Paul DeGregorio And Bob Ravenscraft) (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

"It is time for Missouri to make serious reforms to strengthen and improve the administration of elections. While the commission did not agree on every issue, it did recommend nearly 50 reforms. We commend Secretary of State Matt Blunt for appointing the commission on his very first day in office. We encourage all Missourians to contact their elected officials to support needed reforms. The time to act is now, not when another election controversy arises." I agree! For more information please see my Missouri page.

01/30/2001 "Secretary of state outlines election reform plan" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Missouri's "top election official is calling for early balloting and scores of other reforms to the state's election system. Blunt's report called for 26 legislative changes and 11 administrative actions including: Creating a statewide, uniform system for casting votes; Establishing uniform counting procedures; Granting subpoena power for the secretary of state's office to investigate voting irregularities and authority for the attorney general's office to prosecute violations." The Post reported some criticism from Kevin Coan, the Republican director of elections for the city of St. Louis, and especially from Judy Taylor, the Democratic director of elections for St. Louis County. - For more information please see my Missouri page.

01/28/2001 "Optical Scanners Topped Pregnant Chads as Most Flawed in Florida" (The Los Angeles Times)

"When Democratic candidate Al Gore challenged the results of the 2000 presidential election in Florida, attention focused on the state's problem-plagued punch-card ballots with their hanging and pregnant chads. But another voting system was even less reliable than the punch cards, the Orlando Sentinel found: an optical scanning system used in 15 of Florida's 67 counties. That system, in which ovals on paper ballots are filled in by pencil and scanned at a central county office, resulted in 5.7% of all ballots being rejected--compared with 3.9% in the counties that used punch cards."

"The 15 counties all used a voting system that collected paper ballots at each polling place but tabulated them by machine at a single county office. Other counties used similar paper ballots that are fed into an optical scanner at each polling place, with the voter present. If the ballot is mismarked, the machine spits it out so the voter can correct mistakes. In that system, the reject rate is normally less than 1%. But many of the smaller counties say they cannot afford the precinct counters, which cost several thousand dollars each."

01/28/2001 "The Voting Technology Gap" (The Washington Post)

Al Gore claimed that "the old and cheap, outdated [voting] machinery is usually found in areas with populations that are of lower income people, minorities, seniors on fixed incomes." Jesse Jackson wrote that "voters in predominantly minority communities had to vote using antiquated machines". However, these popular and politically correct claims are being refuted by "economist Stephen Knack [University of Maryland] and political scientist Martha Kropf [University of Missouri-Kansas City], who have analyzed voting technology across the nation. They found no pattern of discrimination. Instead, they determined that African Americans and the poor were no more likely than whites or more affluent voters to reside in counties that use the much-maligned punch-card machines." Read and decide for yourself.

01/27/2001 "Fla. 'Overvotes' Hit Democrats The Hardest" (The Washington Post)

"Florida voters who spoiled their ballots because they punched more than one presidential candidate's name were three times as likely to have included Vice President Gore as one of their choices as George W. Bush, a Washington Post analysis has found."

"The Post findings suggest that the problems are not just hanging chads or outdated technology, however, but tens of thousands of voters who misunderstood how voting works, were confused by the instructions and did not receive sufficient help in the process."

"Voting experts suggest that the apparent tendency of Democratic voters to have a higher spoilage rate on their ballots than Republican voters is due to the fact that Democrats, through an intense get-out-the-vote drive targeted at minority communities, managed to motivate many newer and first-time voters who were not familiar with the voting equipment. Democratic voters were also more likely to be concentrated in counties that did not check ballots for errors in the precinct. Republican counties were more likely to have that second-chance technology to correct their ballots." - Ballot checking in precincts is the no. 1 reform on my agenda.

01/25/2001 "Election Reform Gets Push From Bush, Congress" (The Washington Post)

"President Bush and congressional leaders of both parties, prodded by public revulsion at the Florida vote-counting debacle, agreed yesterday to consider dramatic changes in the way Americans choose their leaders. Election reform came up as a surprise topic during a morning White House meeting between Bush and the leaders. Aides to Bush said the president is concerned about confusing voting methods such as Palm Beach's "butterfly ballot," plus the difficulty some members of the military had in casting absentee ballots, and the ease with which some felons voted illegally. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer said, "The president wants to make certain that one of the focuses of attention this year is electoral reform.""

"Bush indicated that he will want a panel on election reform to look forward and not "rehash" the 2000 election. "It's over," he said bluntly, according to participants. Bush said he was particularly concerned that television networks reported results of Florida voting while polls were still open in part of the state, and some Democrats have suggested that a universal closing time could address that."

"Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said he and Democratic leaders are planning to create a select committee on election reform. He said the panel will begin a thorough investigation shortly, and come up with recommendations for legislation in six to eight months."

"Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) said there was a "general agreement" at the White House meeting that legislation to update election procedures should be considered separately from campaign finance reform." "

01/23/2001 "Fla. Vote Supervisors Urge Standards" (New York Times)

"Florida's 67 county election supervisors gathered Tuesday for the first time since the disputed presidential race and called on the Legislature to adopt uniform voting technology throughout the state. The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections also voted at its annual winter meeting for a single set of standards on how to conduct a recount."

01/21/2001 "Riverside's Investment in Making the Chad Obsolete" (Los Angeles Times)

The voting system of the future? - "It is baffling why we cannot count all our ballots precisely and swiftly. But in Riverside County, they do just that. Mischelle Townsend, the county registrar of voters, has installed an electronic voting system that makes it next to impossible for people to vote for the wrong candidate and completely impossible for them to vote for two candidates for the same office. It is the first countywide touchscreen system in the country."

01/22/2001 "PENNSYLVANIA’S COUNTIES LIST TOP PRIORITIES FOR 2001 " (press release)

"Leaders from Pennsylvania’s counties announced their priorities for 2001 today listing election administration reform as one of the top. "The 2000 Presidential Election cast a bright spotlight on counties nationwide," said Jim Scahill, Chairman of the Armstrong County Board of Commissioners and President of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP). "In Pennsylvania, we believe that now is the time for a thoughtful discussion about how we conduct elections."

01/21/2001 "Liberals Discuss Electoral Overhaul" (New York Times)

"Through the Internet, a coalition called the Pro-Democracy Campaign has already drawn up a 10-point "Voters' Bill of Rights.""

01/21/2001 "Counting Every Vote" (New York Times)

Brief but good discussion of the litigation that some states are facing, whether or not they should standardize statewide, and if federal funding will be made available. "Some on Capitol Hill are worried that election reform will run afoul of partisan politics, or that it will become a field on which to replay the 2000 election. Because the most antiquated voting systems typically are found in urban areas that are rich in Democratic votes, the purchase of new equipment may benefit Democrats more than Republicans. 'It will be quite interesting to see where the opposition comes from because we know who is most disadvantaged by the current system and it's the Democrats,' said Laughlin McDonald, a lawyer for the ACLU, which is involved in the three state lawsuits. But Mr. Schumer [D-NY], Mr. Brownback [R-KS] [co-sponsors of the Voting Study and Improvement Act of 2000] and Senator Max Cleland, a Georgia Democrat who is considering a bill of his own, said they do not yet sense any partisan division. 'I think the Bush administration and the Republicans in the House and Senate will want to correct the system,' Mr. Schumer said, "and this will not be a partisan issue.'"

"Five states - Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Oklahoma and Rhode Island - currently have uniform systems. 'Within a state, you've got to have equal standards for counting votes,' said Cathy Cox, Georgia's secretary of state. 'With four different ways of casting votes, there's no way you can have equal standards for counting votes.' Ms. Cox, a Democrat, is advocating a statewide touch-screen system for Georgia with machines that would work much like automated bank tellers. She estimates the cost at $60 million." - For more information, see "7 Blacks Challenge Georgia's Voting System", below.

01/14/2001 "Election Officials Look at Voting" (AP)

"About 20 different plans aimed at preventing another Florida fiasco have popped up in Congress and more are coming, said National Association of Secretaries of State President Sharon Priest, Arkansas' secretary of state. Priest heads the group's voting reform task force, which is meeting this weekend [1/13-1/14/2001] to make sure that the people who run the elections have a say in the national dialogue. They're discussing uniform polling hours, voting methods, technology, standardized ballots, poll staffing, voter education and election-night news coverage. The task force will make recommendations to the association when it meets next month to consider and possibly endorse a plan."

01/14/2001 "Review Shows Minor Gain for Bush " (AP)

"A review of 10,600 previously uncounted ballots in Miami-Dade County showed George W. Bush (news - web sites) gaining six more votes than Al Gore (news - web sites), The Palm Beach Post reported Sunday."

01/13/2001 "New secretary of state opens 2nd investigation into Election Day in city " (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

"Saying his predecessor's report had 'glaring defects,' new Secretary of State Matt Blunt is starting a second investigation into the Nov. 7 behavior of election officials and voters in the city of St. Louis. Blunt explained his reasons Friday at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, where he kicked off the first hearing of his new state Election Commission. The panel is charged with recommending changes by next month in state and local voting laws, procedures or systems."

It is not often that I get to read an newspaper article about a news event I personally witnessed. Having attended the Blunt Commission hearing, I believe that the following statement in the Post is false and misleading: "The commission listened for three hours as some witnesses told of 'a near riot' by city residents who - depending on the speaker - were either denied their voting rights or needed to be prosecuted for fraudulently voting." In fact, the "near riot" and the need for prosecution of vote fraud were just two of a great many issues raised at the hearing, and they were not discussed in connection with each other. I never heard any testimony implying that the citizens who were in long lines at the city election board, seeking to resolve legitimate registration problems, should be prosecuted for anything. In fact I found the hearings to be surprisingly non-partisan. I was dissapointed with the article and I wrote a letter to the editor, which was never published.

See the Missouri page for some aditional information.

01/13/2001 "Federal Panel Grills Fla's Harris" (AP)

"Secretary of State Katherine Harris left county supervisors to manage for themselves at the expense of voters, said members of a panel investigating Florida's presidential election."

01/12/2001 "Unisys' Phony Voter Solution" (Forbes)

"Unisys has no solution. Unisys is, however, willing to invent one once it finds a customer. When Unisys says it's "offering a fully integrated approach to election management," it does not mean it has something specific to offer. It has no product or prototype that is currently available. The lack of substance to the partnership's plans did not prevent Unisys from announcing it yesterday."

"Florida or no Florida, chad or no chad, the big problem in the election business isn't technology; it's politics. There are about 3,600 counties in the U.S. Companies like Global Election and Hayward, Calif.-based Sequoia Pacific Systems, which do sell voting machines, say the greatest obstacle has been the indifference of county officials. They tend to believe that their systems are good enough. Most companies who have taken a look at this market have gone away, turned off by the lengthy selling process." - But that may change, now that governments are motivated, by lawsuits and public pressure, to modernize their voting systems. And the number of customers will drop from 3600 to 50 if election control shifts from counties to states which seems to be the current trend.

01/11/2001 "Unisys, Microsoft, Dell to Create New Voting System" (AP)

"Blue Bell, Pa.-based Unisys Corp. said on Thursday it will bring together hardware from No. 2 PC maker Dell Computer Corp. and software from Microsoft Corp. in the new voting system. The system Unisys would process voter registration, identify voters at polling places, and process and count votes, Unisys said."

01/11/2001 "Civil Rights Commission Looking Into Florida Vote Irregularities;" (The Washington Post)

"The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights today opened its fact-finding investigation into alleged voting irregularities in Florida during the Nov. 7 presidential election."

"Willie D. Whiting Jr., pastor of the House of Prayer Church here, also told of his experience of arriving at the polls with his family and being told, wrongly, that he could not vote because he was a convicted felon. Whiting said he spoke to a voting supervisor and asked if he should call his attorney. In a few minutes, the supervisor said Whiting had been confused with a Willie J. Whiting who was a convicted felon, and the minister was finally allowed to vote. Whiting said, 'I was sling-shotted into slavery'".

01/10/2001 "Suit Charges Racism in Fla. Voting" (AP)

"Saying blacks were disenfranchised in November by institutionalized racism, civil rights groups sued Florida election officials Wednesday in a bid to overhaul how elections are run." - The claims of "institutionalized racism" do not sound convincing but if it leads to election reform, I'm all for it.

01/09/2001 "Experts suggest optical ballots" (Miami Herald)

"State and national election experts urged an elections task force Monday to junk Florida's discredited punch-card voting system and buy costly new equipment that would require a massive voter education drive, but would reduce the ballot errors that tainted the 2000 presidential vote. Meeting for the first time, members of Gov. Jeb Bush's bipartisan task force learned that no voting system is goof-proof. The task force is expected to recommend that the Legislature spend millions of dollars to modernize democracy's machinery in the state -- but not before a likely debate over the price, which ranges from $45 million to $200 million."

"Experts recommended converting 24 counties still using punch cards -- including Miami-Dade and Broward -- to newer optical-scan technology by 2002. The counties could be asked to pay a share of the increased costs. In an optical-scan system, a voter marks a ballot by filling in ovals, much like a lottery ticket or school exam, then feeds a single piece of paper into a machine. The results can be transmitted quickly over phone lines. The best optical scan equipment rejects overvotes -- in which a voter selects more than one candidate in a race -- eliminating many errors. One state expert estimated the cost of making the switch statewide at $45 million."

But, also discussed: "The latest in elections technology is the touch-screen in which a voter slips a plastic card into a machine that looks like an ATM, and touches the candidate name of choice. But touch-screen is currently used by only 9 percent of American voters, is expensive and has never been approved for use in Florida by the secretary of state's office."

01/10/2001 "Suggestions are worthy" (editorial) (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

"Florida voters were understandably outraged, frustrated and hurt by numerous problems that plagued the casting, counting, recounting and validations of votes from Election Day, Nov. 7. Now they should be pleased and relieved to know that a state task force is leaning toward recommending a package of positive reforms promising to make those problems far less likely in the future. A strong consensus is emerging about suggesting many helpful reforms to make conduct of elections user-friendly, clear, consistent, fair and nondiscriminatory." - First and formost is the elimination of punch-card voting machines. The question is whether to replace them with optical scan systems already used in 26 counties in Florida, at a cost of $45 million; or with a new touch-screen system that will cost $200 million.

01/09/2001 "Florida Begins Review Of How To Cut Vote-Counting Errors" (Chicago Tribune)

On Monday, January 8, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush addressed the first meeting of the bi-partisan "Select Task Force on Election Procedures, Standards and Technology" which he appointed in mid-December. Their report is due March 1.

01/06/2001 "7 Blacks Challenge Georgia's Voting System" (New York Times)

"The lawsuit calls for the enactment of a uniform statewide voting system in time for the next statewide election in 2002. Georgia's secretary of state, Cathy Cox, has proposed putting a new system in place for the next presidential election in 2004. Ms. Cox is pushing for the purchase of electronic machines that would work much like an automated bank teller and has estimated the cost at $60 million."

Although not mentioned in the article, this lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, citing (in their press release) a "'fatally flawed' system that disproportionately affects people of color." I find it interesting that neither the ACLU nor the press acknowledge that, on a statewide basis, all three voting systems used in Georgia experienced virtually the same undervote rates - Punch Card: 4.6%, Optical Scan: 4.5% and Lever Machine: 4.2%. For more information, see the 12/28/2000 press release from Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox. But, while the arguments and statistics are debatable, the conclusion is inescapeable: all three systems are flawed and unacceptable. The remaining question is, what degree of standardization? Some want a single, national standard; but it seems states do not want federal decrees, just federal money. And of course many counties, like mine, don't even want a statewide standard - they want to be able to choose the voting system that they feel will best meet their needs.

01/06/2001 "Inquiry finds no fraud at city polls in November vote, Cook says" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

"But the Democratic secretary of state criticized St. Louis election officials and offered ideas for how to avoid a similar mess in the future."

"Cook told reporters she had found no evidence that African-Americans were systematically denied the right to vote or that polls were kept open to ensure a higher Democratic turnout." But, "'Problems that came to light on November 7 in the city should have been anticipated and could have to a large extent been avoided or minimized with better advance preparation,' Cook said in the report."

"For the coming election, [Kevin] Coan said the board had installed new phone lines. The board had purchased cell phones several years ago, he said, but a former chairman of the board ordered that the phones be returned because they were too expensive. Cook's report also recommended that the city analyze whether the election board is properly funded. It said the board's central office space is inadequate and that law requires that some voters be allowed to vote there. In November, many were told to return to their precincts."