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