- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Florida officials yesterday accused former President Jimmy Carter of a politically motivated effort to undermine voter confidence after the Democrat said in a newspaper column that the state is “likely” to repeat the voting problems that plagued the 2000 presidential election.

State officials also said the former president made no attempt to get up-to-date information before writing a critical opinion piece and never tried to contact the governor’s office or that of Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood.

“This is a shockingly partisan opinion piece, and it’s unfortunate that a person such as the former president is being used by the Democratic Party for low-level political rhetoric,” said Jacob DiPietre, press secretary for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“It’s clear that [Mr. Carter] doesn’t have his facts straight. The governor believes that it’s ironic that someone who has spent so much time and so much energy encouraging faith in the elections of Third World countries would go to such lengthy, partisan extremes to undermine voter confidence in his own country,” Mr. DiPietre said.

Florida’s updated election system made headlines yesterday in Atlanta, when a federal appeals court revived a lawsuit seeking a paper trail for Florida’s new electronic “touch-screen” voting machines, which affects 15 Florida counties using machines that don’t create paper copies.

A state appeals court had ruled last month that a paper trail of ballots was not required, saying voters are not guaranteed “a perfect voting system.”

Touch-screen machines were introduced in Florida after the 2000 election, when election supervisors — most memorably in West Palm Beach — pored over punch-card ballots looking for “hanging chads.”

Alia Faraj, a spokesman for the Florida secretary of state, who oversees elections in the state, said Mr. Carter’s column appeared to be based on out-of-date information about the state’s progress in reforming its voting system.

“Former President Carter has been a statesman,” Miss Faraj said, “but in this case, he did not reach out to the secretary of state to have a conversation with her and doesn’t recognize all the reforms that we do have in place and have had in place since the 2000 election.”

In his opinion piece, published yesterday in The Washington Post, Mr. Carter called Florida’s election system “suspicious” and said that despite changes designed to avoid the woes of 2000, conditions for a fair election still do not exist.

“The disturbing fact is that a repetition of the problems of 2000 now seems likely,” he wrote. “It is unconscionable to perpetuate fraudulent or biased electoral practices in any nation. It is especially objectionable among us Americans, who have prided ourselves on setting a global example for pure democracy.”

The former president, who runs the Carter Center, which monitors international elections, said “some basic international requirements for a fair election are missing in Florida.”

But Rep. Katherine Harris, the secretary of state during the 2000 fight, said that Mr. Carter “appears radically misinformed” about Florida’s election reforms since then, “or he is seeking to plant the seeds of illegitimacy for any election a Democrat does not win.”

“Either way, Mr. Carter, who once pledged that he would never lie to us, should avoid spreading the lies of others,” the Republican lawmaker said.

Mr. Carter charged that Miss Hood’s office made a “fumbling attempt” to disqualify 22,000 black voters and accused Miss Hood of working in a partisan manner to place Ralph Nader on the statewide presidential ballot, “knowing that two-thirds of his votes in the previous election came at the expense” of Democrat Al Gore.

Miss Faraj said all those charges are false. She said the state began a process to purge felons from the voter rolls, but the process was flawed and eventually abandoned. She also said the Florida Supreme Court — not the state government — decided this month that Mr. Nader’s name would be on the ballot.

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