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Florida's voting woes

Florida markets itself as a tourist haven and a mecca for fun and entertainment. Unfortunately, the whole state continues to be a punchline.

Echoing the voting and vote-counting controversy of the 2000 presidential election, last week's Florida primaries were fraught with irregularities. Almost immediately after voting began Tuesday, reports arose of short-staffed polling stations and malfunctioning voting machines, which, in some cases, were not turned on until 5 p.m. Officials had to turn away possibly thousands of potential voters and Governor Jeb Bush had to extend voting by two hours. As in Nov., 2000, when the nation waited impatiently for Florida's election officials to announce a presidential winner, this year's turmoil has left the Democratic gubernatorial nomination uncertain. Tampa lawyer Bill McBride barely leads former U.S. attorney general Janet Reno, but Reno has rightly not yet conceded.

This is a national embarrassment, and the blame belongs with Jeb Bush and Congress, neither of which have taken strong enough steps to ensure proper voting procedures.

Jeb Bush and the Florida legislature agreed on a $32 million upgrade of the voting system after the 2000 election, but their efforts were obviously not sufficient. They should have tested their new systems more thoroughly before expecting them to work for millions of voters. They also should have ensured full levels of staffing and trained the poll workers on use of voting machines. This would have required significantly greater resources, but considering how essential proper voting is to democracy, Jeb Bush and other Florida officials need to act.

The U.S. Congress should then follow suit. After a widely supported bipartisan effort in 2001, the push for broad election reform has fallen by the wayside. Florida is the most high-profile case of improper voting mechanisms, but other states are also sub-par. Just as barriers to suffrage caused Congress to act 40 years ago, national leaders need to establish a uniform system of voting in all states. Only a committed, national initiative will prevent similar debacles from happening again and again.

Decades after voting rights legislation was supposed to ensure suffrage for everyone, voter disenfranchisement is simply unacceptable. America ought to be the model for democracy worldwide, but when voters are turned away from the polls, machines malfunction and reform is held hostage to partisan bickering, American democracy is tainted. Through new technology and more resources, Florida and Congress need to ensure that everyone who wants to vote can and that their votes will actually be counted.


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