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Paper ballot request draws supervisor's ire
State Sen. Ron Klein wants absentee ballots in touch-screen precincts.

By Dara Kam

Special to The Palm Beach Post

Thursday, August 05, 2004

TALLAHASSEE — Sen. Ron Klein urged Gov. Jeb Bush on Thursday to give voters in the 15 counties that use touch-screen voting machines the option of casting paper absentee ballots, a move that Palm Beach County's top elections official rejected as "the most absurd thing I've heard yet."

"We've got four optical scanner machines and 700 precincts," a clearly exasperated Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore said. "How are we going to do it?"

Although residents of all of Florida's 67 counties can already cast their votes on paper by requesting an absentee ballot from their local elections supervisors, Klein, D-Delray Beach, said he wants voters to have the ability to cast the paper ballots from each precinct.
"It's not such a huge list for the supervisors to expand this," Klein said in Tallahassee on Thursday morning. "We're just trying to make it easier for voters."

But LePore, reached in West Palm Beach, said what Klein was asking was a big deal. In addition to having to buy at least 696 more optical-scan machines, Palm Beach County would have to print enough paper ballots for the county's 710,000 voters and distribute nearly 200 variations of the ballot to different precincts.

All that, she said, would "guarantee" disaster.

"If they want problems, this is the way to have problems. They keep predicting there's going to be chaos and doom and gloom and debacle — this will guarantee it," LePore said.

Klein, a state senator, later retorted angrily from his home in Delray Beach that the county wouldn't have to put an optical scanner in every precinct. He said it would only have to supply the ballots everywhere and tabulate them at the supervisor's office.

"It's a little more effort and a little more cost, but it's far better than having an election in 2004 in which people don't have confidence in the process," he said.

But LePore said the law requires that optical-scan ballots be tabulated at each precinct.

Earlier, LePore's outrage grew as she went on for several minutes, claiming that the Democrats' interest in the machines is less about voters' rights than it is about politics — particularly those involving her race for reelection Aug. 31.

"It's me," she said when asked why the Democrats were pursuing the changes. "I followed the laws and did what I'm supposed to do, and they can't stand that. They are doing such a disservice to the voters of this state by predicting all these problems. What's going to end up happening is people aren't going to come out to vote on election day.

"Unfortunately, both parties are doing it, but more so on the Democratic Party side all over the country. They're lining their ducks up in a row, getting ready for the lawsuits that they're going to file so that when mistakes start happening they can point their finger and say, I told you so."

LePore said that Democrats have never forgiven her for Al Gore's loss to George W. Bush in 2000 after she refused to "kowtow" to them regarding a recount in the wake of the mayhem created by the now-legendary butterfly ballot.

Democrats in Palm Beach County have recruited former school board member Arthur Anderson to challenge LePore, who switched her party affiliation from Democrat to no party affiliation after the 2000 election. U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Delray Beach, handpicked Anderson and has garnered national party support for him.

Klein acknowledged LePore was "under attack from some people," but he said, "I'm not one of them.

"I have not publicly endorsed him," Klein said of Anderson, "but I am going to vote for him.

"It's not personal for me. We need to have a supervisor who is open and prepared to respond to and keep up with the concerns of the community."

Earlier in Tallahassee, Klein and Rep. Doug Wiles, D-St. Augustine, also urged the governor to require that every voting machine in the state be tested in order to allay apprehension about the electronic voting systems.

Elections officials maintain that each voting machine already is subjected to rigorous internal certification prior to the public logic and accuracy tests, which are scheduled to begin with a random sampling of machines next week.

In Martin County, which also uses touch-screen voting machines, Elections Supervisor Peggy Robbins said meeting Klein's demands would be "very complicated." She added that she has heard only "positive remarks, positive remarks," from voters in the two years since converting to the touch-screen machines.

Bush has no intention of issuing any mandates like those called for by Klein, his spokesman said.

"The governor has every confidence in our voting system," Jacob DePietre said.

Despite Bush's steadfast defense of the machines, leery Republican Party officials last week sent out a flier to GOP voters in Miami-Dade County urging them to vote by paper absentee ballot in lieu of using touch-screens.

Among the issues Bush and Secretary of State Glenda Hood, whom he appointed in 2003, are struggling with as they prepare for the 2004 election:

• An investigation into a $2.7 million central voter database and a subsequent error-riddled "potential felon voter" list to be purged from the rolls.

• Reports of errors and lost votes on the touch-screen machines.

• The potential of a manual recount, from which the legislature has already excluded touch-screen machines.

• A lawsuit filed by Wexler and others demanding a "paper trail" for the touch-screen machines in the event of a recount.

Democrats throughout the nation — still seething over the razor-thin victory of President Bush over Gore — are scrutinizing every aspect of the state's elections system and have already begun to castigate the touch-screen machines that more than half of Florida's 9.3 million voters are slated to use this fall.

People for American Way Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan civil liberties group founded 24 years ago by Norman Lear and Barbara Jordan, sent Gov. Bush a letter Thursday asking that all of the state's touch-screen machines be retrofitted to provide a voter-verifiable paper trail if a recount is required or, in instances where retrofitting is not possible, provide sufficient paper ballots at a precinct to provide voters with a choice.

Asked whether such requests were creating more anxiety for voters, the group's president, Ralph Neas, said, "In the words of Justice Brandeis, sunlight is the best disinfectant, and the eyes of the nation, the eyes of the world, are on Florida."

But LePore saw it this way: "South Florida and Palm Beach County are being held to a much higher standard than any other jurisdiction in this country, and it's not fair. But we know that because every little thing that happens is going to get pounced on, we're trying to be one step ahead of the naysayers."

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