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Vote Reforms Aim to Fix Florida Polling Problems


Florida officials are hoping recent election reforms will ensure the presidential vote this year will not see a repeat of the kind of problems that tarnished the 2000 election. Scores of votes were tossed out in 2000 because of ballot errors mainly caused by confusing vote forms. Now, many residents are using early voting options to avoid problems on election day. VOA's Brian Wagner reports from Miami.

More than four million voters in Florida have cast early ballots as a result of election reforms passed since 2000. The Democratic party has been urging supporters to cast ballots before election day to make sure their votes are counted on election night. For Republicans, the focus is on absentee ballots, especially for senior citizens and others who prefer to send their vote by mail.

Democratic supporters said early voting allows time to fix problems with voter registration or avoid long delays on election day. Bruce Davis cast his ballot early.

"If I should have any complications, rather than wait until the election, like if they say I am not registered here or whatever, I have time to rectify it," he said.

Florida Democrats said they have good reason to be wary. Many point to the disputed 2000 presidential election, which President Bush won by a margin of just over 500 votes. Democrats contend confusing ballots in Palm Beach County and other ballot problems cost Al Gore the election.

Sean Foreman, a political scientist at Barry University, said the state's reputation has been tainted for some.

"What happened in the 2000 election, for some people it is water under the bridge, it is history," he said. "For others, they truly believe their votes were robbed, the election was rigged, it was stolen. We cannot have the perception of having miscues happen this time."

Florida's expanded early voting options and reforms were passed in an effort to avoid a repeat of the problems that plagued the 2000 election, but one new law has raised concerns.

Under the new rules, Florida voters must use a government identification card that matches the data provided on state voter registration forms. Advocates of the rule said it will prevent ineligible voters from registering and casting ballots. Critics said the law may block eligible voters from casting ballots, for example if their names are mistakenly misspelled on voter rolls or they have changed addresses.

Democrats said the law is most likely to affect low-income residents, who they said tend to vote for Democrats.

Officials said clerical errors on some voter records may be a factor, but they said voters have a chance to correct minor problems before the end of Election Day.

Kevin Wagner a political scientist at Florida Atlantic University, said registration problems are most often a result of bureaucratic errors not fraud.

"There is a difference between bad registrations and fraudulent voting that people are missing," he added. "There is no evidence, none that I have seen, that there are mass attempts to defraud the voting system. There are some people collecting signatures who do not fill them [registration forms] in right. There are some bureaucrats who do not type them in well."

Lawyers for the Democratic and Republican parties will deploy across the state on election day to guard against problems. The partisan legal teams played a major role in the aftermath of the 2000 vote as well.

Sean Foreman of Barry University said too many lawyers could have an impact this year.

"It is good the legal teams are ready and looking for potential problems," he said. "But I hope they do not find problems where they do not necessarily exist."

Foreman said legal troubles are a big factor when races are very close, as in 2000. Polls show a tight race in Florida this year, but the outcome will not be clear until Election Day.

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