- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2002

Reports of voting irregularities in Florida and Maryland in Tuesday's primaries are a sign voters are much more attuned to problems after the 2000 elections and should be a wake-up call to politicians and elections officials, elections observers said yesterday.

Voters in 12 states and the District of Columbia participated in primaries on Tuesday. But there were scattered reports of problems in jurisdictions that switched to new voting machines in Maryland and Florida, including polls failing to open on time.

In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush ordered polling places held open late to accommodate voters in precincts that opened late, but some poll workers refused and shut down at the regular time.

That prompted a slew of complaints to Florida newspapers, radio and television stations, and to a task force set up by People for the American Way and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from voters who said they were turned away from closed polls or weren't given paper ballots as an alternative means to vote.

No legal challenges had been filed as of yesterday evening, but observers said it's certain voters are more sensitive to problems after the 2000 elections.

"I'm sure they're more sensitive," said Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. "I don't think there are more widespread problems, but once you introduce new technologies you're going to have some problems."

Part of the heightened sensitivity comes from so many eyes watching elections now. Outside groups like the NAACP and PFAW monitored Florida's primary this year and are promising to monitor elections in other states. This provides "an incentive to do it right," said Ralph Neas, president of PFAW.

In Washington, meanwhile, House and Senate negotiators are currently hashing out differences in election-reform bills passed months ago, and backers expect Tuesday's incidents will prod them on.

"There's simply no excuse if we fail to complete our work now," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat and one of the chief sponsors of the House bill. He said the complaints and problems show that states haven't been able to correct the problems exposed in 2000 on their own.

Florida spent millions of dollars to install new voting machines and train poll workers, but not all received training. In other cases, the training didn't help enough.

Mr. Neas said the problems must be corrected by November.

"Jeb Bush and other state and county and local officials should have done a much better job, especially since everyone was on notice for two years that there would be a public spotlight on Florida," he said.

Still, others said the problems were to be expected with so many jurisdictions switching to new voting machines.

"As long as every single state and every single county has to reinvent how to use these machines, you're going to have a national process of trial and error painfully played out in elections and newspapers," said Philip Zelikow, executive director of the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, which has been active in examining election reform.

"As anyone knows who's bought a new computer, its one thing to buy a new computer, it's another thing to make it work."

He said both the pending House and Senate bills establish a national clearinghouse of information so other jurisdictions can learn from those who have already tried new machines and methods. Florida's problems should be a boost to negotiators, he said.

"These scandals are an additional spur, if recent news stories hadn't been enough," he said.

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