UF Professor: Legislature May Not Have Solved State’s Election Problems

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Despite changes made in the wake of the state’s 2000 presidential election foul-ups, Florida hasn’t solved some of its key problems in voting, says a University of Florida professor in the new issue of the Florida Journal of Law and Public Policy.

In a special Election 2000 issue of the Journal published by the UF’s Levin College of Law to be mailed to subscribers nationally next week, UF political science Professor Richard Scher argues that implementing electronic reforms * such as the optical-scanning devices and touch-screen technology mandated in the Florida Election Reform Act * is not enough.

“In a very real sense, by opting for the technological reforms, Florida did not meet its obligation to voters to provide a mechanism for voting with clear instructions as to its proper use, to ensure the method of casting the ballot will accurately reflect the voter’s wishes and intent, and to make certain the ballot will accurately be counted, and if necessary, recounted,” Scher writes. “Nor is there any new standard for counting late and overseas ballots.”

Other contributors to the Journal issue, called “Beyond 2000: Law and Policy in the New Millennium,” include Bush/Cheney legal team attorney Barry Richard of Greenberg Traurig; Gore/Leiberman legal team attorney W. Dexter Douglass; Victoria Sutton, Texas Tech University School of Law and former assistant director in the White House Science Office; UF law school Dean Jon Mills; Miami Herald political editor Tom Fiedler; Georgetown law school Professor Mark Tushnet; and Sandra Ferguson Chance, director of the UF Brechner Center for Freedom of Information.

Scher states that though the Election Reform Act is not as effective as it could be, it is unlikely the events of 2000 will be repeated in Florida.

“It’s like rolling the dice. How many times in a row will you roll snake eyes? It’s only happened once in our state’s history, and it’s not likely to happen again here in my lifetime,” he says.

However, Scher contends Florida legislators had to take some action in the face of national concern over apparent election snafues.

“Some of the reforms are okay, but especially by opting for an electronic voting system, they’ve just substituted one set of problems for another,” he says. “One good change is that there now will be a central voting list, so nobody gets turned away at the polls. If there is any doubt you’re not registered, you can vote and it can be disqualified later if there’s a problem.”

The political science professor compliments the new state law’s provision for hand recounts in the case of margins between candidates of less than 0.25 percent. “This recount provision may well be the most remarkable feature of the legislation,” Scher writes.

The reforms “will undoubtedly prove helpful beginning with the 2002 election,” he states. “But these provisions are not very far-reaching and appear to be minimalist given the political pressures on the legislature to do something about the election mess.”

In his Journal article, Scher also contends Florida’s electoral system never actually failed in the 2000 presidential election. It was simply not allowed to work.

“If the lawyers and judges and the media had just stayed out and let the process work itself through, it would have been slow, but it would have worked,” he says. “But I think it raised the consciousness of people. We’ve finally put that awful cliché to rest that says, ‘my vote didn’t count.’ Any time someone says that, you now can point to Florida 2000. It has heightened people’s civic awareness.”

Among opinions of other journal contributors:

  • Gore/Leiberman attorney Douglass indicates Gore could have carried on the balloting fight but concluded that regardless of the outcome, “it would cause an unacceptable division among the people of the nation which would scar the functions of government for years to come.”
  • Bush/Cheney attorney Richards contends if either the Florida or U.S. supreme courts refrained from playing their parts, it would have been an abdication of the highest responsibility of these offices. “In the 2000 litigation, both courts played their roles in the manner intended by the (constitutional) architects.”
  • UF’s Mills states election reforms by the Florida legislature did not address the issue of potential conflicts of interest generated by individuals involved in the political process who also are election officials. “Despite this oversight, the Florida Election Reform Act is a vast improvement. It may in many ways be a nation-wide model.”

Published: March 28th, 2002

Category: News