Planning for the big one: Election experts gather in Clearwater
Nearly six months before Florida chooses the next president, the people who count votes in Florida are deep into planning how to do it right while anticipating everything that could possibly go wrong.
County supervisors of elections are meeting at a beachfront hotel in Clearwater, discussing how to improve voter outreach, adapt to better technology and reduce the potential for political mischief. One of the first panel discussions was entitled "Long lines, long ballots and long hours -- a presidential year."
The Clearwater conference follows Florida's record turnout in the March 15 presidential preference primary, which has prompted state officials to predict that statewide in November could exceed 80 percent in a year when congressional and state Senate districts have been redrawn. Secretary of State Ken Detzner will soon roll out a voter education toolkit that will ramp up the use of social media to connect with voters.
The unprecedented chaos that followed the 2000 presidential election in Florida has taught supervisors to be on alert in anticipation of what could go haywire. In a presentation to supervisors, Maria Matthews, director of the state Division of Elections, described one "unusual" aspect of this year's election.
It's a proposed constitutional amendment by the Legislature, dealing with a solar energy tax break, that will appear on the Aug. 30 primary as Amendment Number 4. (The other lower-numbered amendments will all appear on the November ballot).
"It may create some confusion for your voters," Matthews said. "You're going to have to expect that one."
Florida is fertile territory for vendors looking to sell products. Clear Ballot, a Boston company, markets ClearAudit, a tool to audit vote totals rather than conducting manual audits. The technology is in use in 13 counties, including Bay, Broward, Leon and Nassau. A company kiosk shows the many dizzying ways that voters in Tallahassee marked ballots in a close 2012 election for an obscure soil and water conservation district that required a recount.
Even Theresa Lepore is at the conference. Sixteen years after the recount, the former Palm Beach County elections supervisor says she's still stopped constantly by people who want to talk about the "butterfly ballot" central to the 2000 meltdown. Lepore is a consultant for Democracy Live, a vendor that develops electronic ballots for overseas and military voters and voters with disabilities.