Ballot design an issue in Broward and Dade, too
A close look at election numbers in Broward and Miami-Dade counties shows that confusing ballot design might have caused voters to overlook two Cabinet races.
BY TRENTON DANIEL AND BREANNE GILPATRICK
The same electronic ballot design flaw implicated in more than 18,300 Sarasota nonvotes might have caused problems for South Florida voters in two well-publicized Cabinet races.
Both Broward and Miami-Dade counties recorded more than 34,000 nonvotes in their elections for attorney general and chief financial officer, according to election results from each county's Supervisor of Elections office.
The problem was worse in precincts with many older voters.
In both counties, the two Cabinet races appeared at the bottom of a voting screen with the higher-profile race for governor and lieutenant governor a contest in which seven sets of candidates nearly filled the screen. All races on the page were listed under a general heading.
One explanation is that many voters assumed the governor's race was the only one on the page, touched the ''next'' button and moved on through the ballot without noticing the two races.
In Sarasota, where the 13th Congressional District race also occupied the same page as the governor's race, experts have blamed the design problem for 18,382 nonvotes in one of the nation's most contested congressional races.
Voting machine malfunctions could have contributed to some of the nonvotes, said Stephen Ansolabehere, a member of the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project. Voters also may have decided to skip the race intentionally.
But the high number of nonvotes potentially related to the design throughout Florida signals a need to re-evaluate some of the state's electronic voting technology, Ansolabehere said.
''In general it's a good rule of thumb to have one office per screen,'' said Ansolabehere, who is also a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ``It really minimizes confusion as to what you're doing.''
The canvassing board certified election results Friday in Broward and Miami-Dade, and acknowledged the significant number of nonvotes in the two races.
''I think looking at that page you may not see those two races,'' Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes said.
Sarasota, Broward and Miami-Dade counties all use the same touch-screen iVotronic machines, which are produced by Election Systems & Software.
Each county designs its own ballots.
Even before the Nov. 7 election, Miami-Dade already had plans to change its ballots to make the races easier to see, said Lester Sola, Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections. The new electronic ballots will be introduced with Tuesday's runoff elections.
''You're going to have more pages, but you'll have fewer races to a page,'' Sola said.
Sola said Miami-Dade made the change to increase voter participation in all of the county's races.
A campaign worker for attorney general candidate Walter ''Skip'' Campbell said at least 30 people had reported concerns with the ballot.
''It's pretty clear that something went wrong here,'' said Jeff Garcia, who worked as campaign manager for Campbell, who lost the attorney general race. ``If you look at the screen, it's very easy to skip over races.''
Erwin and Phyllis Deiser said they cast their ballots during early voting for the attorney general race on two separate machines at a Pembroke Pines poll but, they said, the vote wasn't initially recorded.
When the review screen came up at the end, no vote appeared for the attorney general race, they said. However, when they each went back and marked the ballot again, the votes registered.
''It happened to both of us,'' said Erwin Deiser, 70, a full-time minister who lives in Century Village.
Representatives for CFO candidates Alex Sink and Tom Lee said neither campaign received any calls from voters who had trouble finding the race on the ballot.
''Maybe people felt like they didn't need to call us,'' Tara Klimek, Sink's spokeswoman, said.
In both Broward and Miami-Dade, about 9 percent of voters did not cast ballots in the races for attorney general or for CFO.
Fewer than one percent of voters in Broward and fewer than 2 percent of voters in Miami-Dade did not vote in the governor's race. That means the percentage of Cabinet race nonvotes should have been closer to 3 or 4 percent, experts calculate.
''Ten percent? That's awful,'' Ted Selker, MIT director of the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project, said.
In some precincts, more than 20 percent of voters failed to cast a ballot in one or both Cabinet races. Those precincts were more likely to have many older voters.
Specific age breakdowns weren't available for Broward precincts, but many of the precincts with the highest percentage of undervotes were in retirement communities in Pembroke Pines, Hallandale Beach and Tamarac.
In the Miami-Dade precincts with a high percentage of nonvotes, almost half of the registered voters were 65 and older.
Unlike in Sarasota, where fewer than 400 votes separated Democrat Christine Jennings and Republican Vern Buchanan, the South Florida nonvotes likely would not have changed the outcome in either Cabinet race.
But election officials can't always assume the votes won't make a difference in the outcome, Selker said.
''We don't know beforehand if we're going to have a close race or not,'' he said. ``There's always a danger.''
A high number of nonvotes also may heighten voters' doubts about the accuracy of election procedures, Ansolabehere said.
''It has raised a lot of suspicion and a lot of concern,'' he said. ``And i think it puts a lot of pressure on election officials.''