Election reform efforts suffered a partisan blow in Congress this week but received a top-level vote of confidence in Florida, the state regarded as ground zero for voter discontent in November 2000.
Capitol Hill Republicans and Democrats broke off talks Tuesday (3/27) to create an election reform task force after the two sides could not agree on the make-up of a panel. Democrats sought a 50-50 split while Republicans wanted a one-member majority and control of the chairmanship. Democrats created their own task force in February to hold hearings and panel discussions on structural changes to the country's disparate election systems.
John Feehery, a spokeswoman for Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Democrats refused to budge on their position despite GOP offers of a 50-50 share of resources and a requirement for a super-majority for any task force recommendations.
"It'll definitely slow things down and it's unfortunate. This is going to throw everything back to committees, who were counting on this select committee to work through the bills," Feehery said.
Democrats charge the Republicans violated the bipartisan spirit of election reform efforts through their insistence on majority control.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the chairman of a Democratic task force on election reform, said the absence of a bipartisan panel would not "sound the death knell" on the issue.
"This issue will not go away, nor should it," Hoyer said.
Hosting an electronic town meeting on Tuesday (3/27), Gov. Jeb Bush (R) expressed confidence that the legislature would adopt a "system that is the best in all 50 states."
"It requires a number of things, including putting in a standard, precinct-based optical scanning system as a minimum state standard by the fall of 2002. That has the lowest rate of error," Bush said. "It will require the state to purchase that equipment."
A task force which looked into Florida's 2000 elections found such optical scan machines, which require voters to fill in ovals and individually feed their ballots into a reader, had an error rate of 0.83 percent. The optical scan machines reject ballots with over-votes or stray marks. By comparison, punch card systems that require voters to punch out chads carried a much greater 3.93 percent error rate.
Florida Secretary of State Katherine said leasing machines for 41 counties would cost $20 million.
A poll conducted for The Miami Herald found a frustrated Florida electorate would be willing to pay much more for state-of-the-art touch-screen voting systems. The poll, released Wednesday (3/28), revealed 66 percent of Floridians would back a $200 million plan to replace all of the state's voting machines with touch-screen systems while 23 percent opposed it. The poll also found growing numbers of Sunshine State residents believe President George W. Bush won November's election. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said Bush won the election, up from 49 percent in November.
A Florida Senate committee also passed a bill Wednesday (3/28) that would make it easier for convicted felons to have their voting rights restored after they served sentences.
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