Dade ballot request denied
The state denied Miami-Dade's request to place numbers next to ballot questions to help the illiterate during the Aug. 31 mayoral elections.
BY CHARLES RABIN
Miami-Dade County initiated legal proceedings Tuesday against the state's Division of Elections after the state said numbers can't be placed next to ballot questions and candidates during the Aug. 31 mayoral elections.
County elections chief Constance Kaplan said she received an e-mail from state elections department Deputy Director Sarah Bradshaw on Friday saying Miami-Dade's request to use numbers to help the county's illiterate population was denied because it was the only county in the state to make such a request.
Infuriated county commissioners, noting how different Dade is from other counties throughout Florida, directed County Attorney Murray Greenberg to begin lawsuit proceedings.
''We should proceed with legal actions and ask to be expedited,'' said Commissioner Sally Heyman. ``Non-actions of the state department of elections has so chilled the right to vote.''
Commissioners voted unanimously for Greenberg to begin the proceedings.
Said Commissioner Betty Ferguson, who heads up the county's election committee: ``It's not an accident. Whoever made that decision knew Dade County would be hurt.''
Commissioners believe that numbers next to candidates' names and ballot questions help the illiterate because they can more easily identify the candidate they want by their number.
Kaplan said she was notified by the state in early June that the department should forward any comments or requests for the upcoming elections almost immediately. She did so, saying county commissioners were concerned with the illiteracy rate in Miami-Dade.
Friday, Kaplan received an e-mail denying her request to place numbers beside the ballot questions.
''Since this is a rule to provide for uniformity, we will not be providing an option for a county to use position numbers. No other county has requested that this be added,'' wrote Bradshaw.
On Tuesday a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Glenda Hood said the decision was made to avoid a repeat of the infamous Butterfly Ballot during the 2000 presidential election.
''This was not going to be a uniform ballot,'' spokeswoman Nicole de Lara said.
The confusing Butterfly Ballot in Palm Beach County became an issue because the number and names of candidates did not line up properly, and some people ended up voting for a candidate other than the one they wanted to vote for.
To use numbers in the Aug. 31 elections, legal questions would have to be answered by July 19, when voting machines are programmed.
Commissioners learned of the state's response late Monday. That prompted Ferguson to question Kaplan's timing in informing commissioners:
``A political push should have and would have started at an earlier time.''
Only five months away from the presidential election, Kaplan and state officials have been under fire recently for a problem that surfaced with touch-screen voting.
The problem is with the audit system, which, in case of a recount, may not record properly where votes come from.
The state and the county have come up with a solution that would link laptop computers to the machines and download data.
But the lateness of the solution has lawmakers and local and state elections officials pointing fingers.
Two weeks ago U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Boca Raton Democrat, asked state Attorney General Charlie Crist to investigate whether the head of the state elections division lied under oath when he denied knowing the computer problem existed before hearing about it in the media.
And the state's elections chief Glenda Hood fired off a letter to Kaplan in May blasting her for not notifying state officials as soon as Kaplan learned of the problem.
Tuesday, Greenberg said he was leery of whether a court in all likelihood in Leon County, where Tallahassee is will make a decision before the July 19 cutoff date.
Still, he said, ``I would love to go to court with this one.''
Miami-Dade, commissioners noted, differs vastly in comparison to the state's other counties: Large numbers of people speak three different languages, Spanish, English and Creole.
And using numbers has a long history here, where illiteracy is not uncommon.
''We have our needs and they are different from the rest of the state,'' said Commissioner Rebeca Sosa.