Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

'Normal' is flexible term for Florida elections

With Recount set to debut on HBO television next week, it's worth asking: Is Florida ready for the next election?

Voter turnout in November is expected to be huge, and the technology for most Florida voters will change. Out with touch screens, in with paper ballots fed into optical scanners.

The eyes of the nation will again be on Florida, a pivotal swing state with 27 electoral votes.

"I find varying degrees of readiness, but nothing abnormal at this point," says the state's top elections official, Secretary of State Kurt Browning.

Nothing abnormal means this: Elections officials fretting over the prospect of long lines or a lack of trained poll workers. And there's ongoing legal challenges by groups that say Florida erects unfair barriers to voting.

Browning, a former Pasco elections supervisor, has just finished a tour of 17 counties — including Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas — switching to new machines from touch screen technology. (Hernando already used optical scan equipment). He wanted to see for himself how well they're making the transition.

One of his last stops was in Pinellas, where he learned that Supervisor Deborah Clark plans to set up absentee ballot drop-off locations for convenience of people voting by mail. It's a good idea as long as ballots are kept secure, Browning said.

But Browning has other worries, including lawsuits seeking to strike down laws enacted by the Legislature that deal with voter registration.

The League of Women Voters wants to repeal hefty fines for missed deadlines for submitting voter registration forms. The all-volunteer group says the fines undermine registration drives, and that Browning should be leading the charge to make it as easy as possible to register.

The NAACP and other groups oppose a "no match, no vote" law that could prevent people from having their votes count if state databases can't match a voter's driver's license number or last four Social Security digits on a voter registration form. Lawyers say there's no proof of fraud and that the law disproportionately affects Hispanics and African-Americans.

"(Browning) has been adamant that he's going to keep in place a system that puts Floridians in jeopardy, for no reason," says Justin Levitt, counsel to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University law school, which represents the NAACP and others.

Levitt said the case has shown that a bad match was due to mistakes by clerks entering data, not voters trying to skirt the law.

Browning is adamant that he has an obligation to protect the integrity of voter rolls: "How do they want us to ensure the accuracy of the rolls if we can't verify numbers?" he asks. "I feel very strongly about this case."

Next week, Browning will give a pep talk to election supervisors at their conference in Pensacola. Offering a preview, he said: "We have a mission, and that is to have the very best, error-free election we possibly can."

It's hard to imagine Browning curled up on a sofa with a box of popcorn watching a DVD of Recount, the HBO movie that depicts the 36-day crisis following the 2000 presidential election.

No, his idea of a good time is not a movie that celebrates Florida's electoral dysfunction.

Referring to the need for a smooth 2008 election cycle, Browning prefers to quote a NASA flight director whose words were captured in another movie, Apollo 13.

"Failure is not an option," Browning says.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

'Normal' is flexible term for Florida elections 05/16/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 19, 2008 10:26am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Memorial for Snooty the manatee, postponed because of Irma, to be held Sunday


    A public memorial to celebrate the life of 69-year-old Snooty the manatee will be held at the South Florida Museum on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

    Snooty , the world's most celebrated manatee, begs for another slice of apple in his pool in the Parker Manatee Aquarium at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton in 2008. Snooty was 60 then. [Times 2008]
  2. Residents wade through a flooded road after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, Friday, September 22, 2017. Because of the heavy rains brought by Maria, thousands of people were evacuated from Toa Baja after the municipal government opened the gates of the Rio La Plata Dam. [Associated Press]
  3. NFL commissioner, players' union angrily denounce Trump comments on national anthem


    SOMERSET, N.J. — The National Football League and its players' union on Saturday angrily denounced President Donald Trump for suggesting that owners fire players who kneel during the national …

    President Donald Trump walks off the stage after he speaks at campaign rally in support of Sen. Luther Strange, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Huntsville, Ala. [Associated Press]
  4. New earthquake, magnitude 6.1, shakes jittery Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A strong new earthquake shook Mexico on Saturday, causing new alarm in a country reeling from two still-more-powerful quakes this month that have killed nearly 400 people.

    Locals play pool at a venue in Mexico City's La Condesa neighborhood, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, four days after the 7.1 earthquake. The upscale Mexico City neighborhood was one of the hardest hit, with more than a half-dozen collapsed buildings in the immediate vicinity. The few Condesa residents who ventured out Friday night said they were anxious for relief from an anguishing week. [Associated Press]
  5. Tests show North Korea earthquake not caused by nuclear test


    SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea's weather agency said a magnitude 3.2 earthquake was detected in North Korea on Saturday close to where the country recently conducted a nuclear test, but it assessed the quake as natural.

    People watch a TV news program reporting North Korea's earthquake, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. South Korea's weather agency said an earthquake was detected in North Korea on Saturday around where the country recently conducted a nuclear test, but it assessed the quake as natural. The signs read " The weather agency said a magnitude 3.0 earthquake was detected in North Korea." [Associated Press]