The Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition


(MDERC)

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Why Reform?

Creating a General Framework By Which to Judge the Success of the November 5th Election

In their report entitled Floridians Want Reform of the Election System… Now!, The Collins Center for Public Policy and the James Madison Institute stated that three-fourths of Floridians surveyed responded that it was “very important” that the State of Florida reform its voting methods before
the November 2002 elections.1  The Report also stated that at 84%, South Floridians were among those who most strongly supported reforms.  The Report was issued in April of 2001.

What happened in South Florida between April 2001 and September 10, 2002 to bring about the change that Floridians in general and South Floridians in particular so overwhelmingly demanded?  Sadly, the answer is “almost nothing.”  In fact, other than contracting for and purchasing 7,500 new touch screen voting machines in the Spring of this year and engaging in related training and the creation of a user manual, the County did very little to reform Miami-Dade County’s election system.

Meanwhile, the touch screen voting machines that were purchased by the County from Election Systems & Software, Inc. (“ES&S”), a vendor that claims to be “the world’s largest election management company,” came with a now well-documented series of problems or issues.  The problems with the technology were admitted to by ES&S representatives in a presentation made before the County Commission. 

Those at the County responsible for conducting elections either knew or should have known about the fact that the technology was untested, cumbersome, complex, people intensive and difficult to set up and that the software used by the company for recording, storing and counting votes, which is source code protected, is difficult, if not impossible, for outsiders to critique and test.  The County’s elections officials therefore should have also anticipated the problems that would come as a result of the new technology.  

That these problems and issues were seemingly not anticipated or wholly ignored by the very “experts” within the County whose job it is to keep abreast of the latest voting technology, is troubling and deserves further investigation.  To this end, the Coalition fully supports the continued involvement and investigation on the part of the Inspector General.

The Coalition believes that the success of the November 5th election must therefore be judged against the needless and thoughtless exigency created by those at the County who apparently chose to put off meaningful reforms while limiting their efforts to spending tax payer monies on unproven and complex technology. In this respect, as this County attempts to create a model for conducting future elections, it needs to differentiate between reforms that are nothing more than successful damage control driven by bad technology and the neglect of voting officials, and meaningful and productive change driven by sound election reform practices.

The troubling and embarrassing events that served to mobilize the agents of change do not in themselves cast a negative pall on the findings and conclusions in this report.  As set forth below, Miami-Dade County staff and elected officials responded both well and poorly to the different challenges presented by the debacle of September 10th.  The Community too, responded at times well and at times poorly.  It is the aim of this report to put the successes and failures in a meaningful context.  It is only by doing this that this County and this Community will be able to judge the success of November 5th and, at the same time, create a real framework for true voting reforms.


1 MacManus, Susan A., Dr., et al., Floridians Want Reform of the Election System….Now, April 16, 2001. Report sponsored by the Collins Center for Public Policy, Inc. and the James Madison Institute and available from the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project.

Conclusion

The overhaul of Miami-Dade County’s elections system did not end in the spring of this year when the County spent $25,000,000 in new technology.  In fact, that was only the beginning. The reforms that preceded the November 5th election were a step forward.  However, they also represented a dangerous move toward the creation of a technology driven, “police run” system of elections with few accounting safeguards and few, if any institutionalized improvements to guarantee that every eligible voter has the opportunity to cast a ballot for candidates and issues of his choice, and that his ballot will be counted. 

As concluded in the report, the Coalition believes that the framework for meaningful voter reform involves three key elements: (1) the broadest voter participation possible, through language assistance, early voting, absentee voting, provisional and substitute voting, and felon re-enfranchisement; (2) the creation of a system of voting with ample meaningful citizen participation, through returning to a process of civilian run elections and through the creation of a citizen’s board of elections; and (3) the creation of a transparent system with adequate accounting safeguards, through the continued use of independent outside observers and through the implementation of financial audits of funds designated for the conduct of elections, the creation of accounting and procedural safeguards, data collection and analysis.

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