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Press Journal editorial: Indian River residents clamor for pre-election vote, paper ballots

Florida Press Journal

August 4, 2004

Indian River County residents just can't wait to vote. As of Tuesday, nearly 4,000 absentee ballots were ordered for the Aug. 31 primary — more than 10 times the number requested in 2002. Early voting runs Aug. 16-30 and is expected to draw record turnouts at the election office in Vero Beach and at Sebastian City Hall.

"I would not be surprised if 25 percent of our voters cast either early ballots or mail ballots," says Elections Supervisor Kay Clem.

Concern about the reliability of voting machines is driving some of the unprecedented rush for absentee ballots. But that concern, so far unfounded in this county, poses problems of its own. Election observers have discovered a variety of ways in which voters can literally mess up mail-in ballots (see accompanying list).

"Any time you vote on paper, voters make more mistakes than they do on electronic gear," says Doug Lewis, director of The Election Center, a Houston-based nonprofit organization that works with election officials across the nation.

Early voting figures to have an increasingly big impact on candidates and the timing of campaigns. Last-minute advertising blitzes become less effective as more citizens vote two weeks before Election Day. And while they may enjoy the convenience, early voters always run a risk of not having all the facts at their disposal.

Unlike previous years, when Democrats requested the lion's share of absentee ballots, Clem reports that registered Republicans account for nearly 80 percent of the requests this time. In addition to prevailing techno-phobia, some of the upsurge may be due to heavy lobbying by the Indian River Neighborhood Association and other groups that have been promoting mail-in voting.

However the ballots get cast, Indian River County voters should exercise their democratic franchise with care and confidence — paper trail, or not.

Messing up the vote

In Palm Beach County's March presidential primary, 150 absentee ballots were rejected. Incidents — all of which are physical impossibilities with voting machines — included:

• Multiple votes in the same race.

• Use of white-out.

• Erasures, drawn lines or notations.

• Food or drink spills.

• Smeared envelope glue on ballot.

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