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Elections chiefs ask for changes

Supervisors want legislators to ax runoffs

By Gary Fineout   Tallahassee Democrat   14 January 2005

Coming off a mostly trouble-free election season, Florida's election supervisors went before state lawmakers Thursday to ask them to permanently eliminate the state's runoff elections, tighten restrictions on who's allowed near polling places and at least consider moving away from the traditional Election Day.

Secretary of State Glenda Hood also went before a joint House and Senate elections committee meeting and urged legislators to make minor changes to state election laws in the coming year. Hood says she wants to change deadlines for voter registration and improve the tracking of absentee ballots to avoid what happened in Broward County, where thousands of ballots had to be remailed. Hood also wants restrictions on how close campaign volunteers can approach people waiting to vote early.

"Certainly our goal is continue to fine-tune our successful election reforms," Hood said.

Neither Hood nor the state's election supervisors advocated changing state law to require that all electronic voting machines maintain paper receipts.

The most controversial idea forwarded by the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections was moving away from having hundreds of polling places open on one day, to an election season that lasts at least 11 days and where the number of polling places is much smaller.

Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning defended the idea, saying that supervisors would need fewer poll workers, that it would cost less to run elections and that it would eliminate the need to throw out provisional ballots because someone voted in the wrong precinct. Precincts would still be assigned to voters, but Browning said the technology exists to figure out which precinct a voter lives in and which ballot he or she should receive for local races.

"Let me ask you this: What Publix do you shop at? Where's your hairdresser? Where's your doctor's office?" Browning asked. "You use those places on a weekly basis and you will go three to five miles, whereas you use polling places every two years."

State Sen. Bill Posey, chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, said he was familiar with the ideas and was not adamantly opposed to any of them. But he added that, given the success of the 2004 election, legislators would not be eager to make large changes such as collapsing the number of polling places.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Posey said.

Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican and member of the House Ethics and Elections Committee, said she is opposed to the idea of decreasing the number of polling places and is on the "warpath" to get rid of early voting completely.

Bogdanoff said early voting makes getting elected even harder for nonincumbents because they have to spend money to communicate with voters during an elongated voting period.

She said she supported the idea of making Election Day a holiday and using schools as voting sites. Rep. Bob Allen, a Merritt Island Republican, has filed a bill for the 2005 session that would take a step in that direction. It would require all school districts to have a teacher planning day on election days and to use schools as polling places.

Other ideas advocated by election supervisors include creating a 100-foot buffer between the line of voters and people trying to talk to voters. Supervisors are also calling for the complete repeal of Florida's runoff, or second primary, which is held when no candidate gets more than 50 percent in the first election. Lawmakers suspended the runoff for 2002 and 2004 elections, but it will come back in 2006 if they fail to act.

Browning said it would be a disaster if elections officials had to conduct three elections in a two-month period. The only alternative would be to move the primary election to late June or early July.

"We don't care if you have five elections in any given year. Just give us the time to do it," he said.

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