ACLU Condemns Latest Florida Voting Fiasco, Warns November Elections Will Be Worse

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
September 11, 2002 12:00 am

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ACLU of Florida
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MIAMI–After an election day rife with problems rivaling those of November 2000, the American Civil Liberties Union today roundly condemned Florida’s failure to provide voters with a reliable voting system and warned that if the problems of yesterday are not corrected, November 2002 will be as bad as or worse than yesterday’s chaotic election.

“”It is hard to believe that after all the meetings, the hearings, the new legislation and all the money spent, Florida officials are still incapable of protecting the right to vote,”” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “”Even after the embarrassment of the November 2000 election, voters in Florida still cannot be sure of being able to cast their ballots, much less have them counted accurately.””

In the first statewide election since November 2000, many South Florida voters arrived at their polling places to find that not one of the new voting machines was working. According to news reports and eyewitness accounts of ACLU monitors, those who could not return several hours later lost the opportunity to vote altogether. Other voters faced long lines in polling places where only a few of the machines were functioning.

While the most glaring problems occurred in populous counties like Miami-Dade and Broward, news reports indicated that in other areas of the state, ballots had to be counted by hand because they were being torn by optical scan counting machines or because such machines were counting all votes as Republican.

The problems were such that even a “”state of emergency”” issued by Gov. Jeb Bush to keep polling places open an additional two hours failed to provide an adequate remedy. Extended hours were not adequately publicized in many areas, and in some counties, poll workers claimed to have never received notice from the Supervisor of Elections.

State and county officials quickly directed the blame toward poll workers, who were deemed irresponsible and inadequate. But ACLU staffers who visited precincts heard from workers who complained that elections staff merely told them how to set up the voting machines, rather than providing them with hands-on training and an opportunity to perform the set-up prior to Election Day.

Other news reports revealed that in Miami-Dade County, no comprehensive check was performed on all the voting machines prior to Election Day. Rather, testing of “”samples”” was deemed sufficient.

“”Most people seem to agree that voting is the most fundamental right in our democracy,”” said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the national ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “”But from what we saw yesterday, officials in Florida don’t seem to be taking that seriously. To not have polling places open until five or six hours after the set time – that is simply astounding. It’s time for something more to be done.””

After it became evident yesterday that voters were encountering massive problems, the ACLU along with the NAACP, People for the American Way, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Advancement Project called on state officials to inform poll workers that, in the case of polling places without functional machines, voters should be provided with an alternative means of voting through provisional ballots or paper absentee ballots. The letter also demanded that any extended polling hours be widely publicized in order to maximize the likelihood that voters who were turned away would return to vote.

The groups, which together filed a recently settled lawsuit on behalf of voters disenfranchised in November 2000 (NAACP v. Harris), will also be examining the consent decrees that resulted from that suit in order to determine whether violations occurred during yesterday’s balloting.

The Florida office of the ACLU, which was flooded yesterday with calls from angered voters, has begun documenting the extensive problems. Further evidence of the election breakdown will be compiled through public records requests and other means. ACLU officials will be examining specifically ways to address the technological failure and the inadequacy of poll worker training.

“”State and local officials must not be permitted to continue to shrug their shoulders while the right to vote – the very foundation on which our democracy rests – is threatened by inadequate voting technology and poor poll worker training,”” said Simon of the ACLU of Florida.

The letter to state officials is online at http://archive.aclu.org/news/2002/fl_091002_ltr.pdf

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