Buddy Johnson's defeat for re-election as Hillsborough's supervisor of elections is a victory for anyone who believes in good government and competently run elections. The best way to build on that outcome is for Johnson to turn in his keys as soon as possible so that Phyllis Busansky can begin cleaning up the mess he caused during five disastrous years.
But there still are questions to answer about what caused the meltdown Tuesday at the polls. Hundreds of voters were given only half the ballot. A lack of equipment at the University of South Florida caused students to wait in line until four hours after the polls were scheduled to close. Voters complained that precinct workers were so overwhelmed and unprepared it had the effect of turning voters away, notably in black neighborhoods, where turnout for Democratic nominee Barack Obama was expected well beforehand to be heavy.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, was right to ask the attorney general to intervene. The mishandling of Tuesday's vote raises questions that go far beyond the fate of Johnson or any individual race. Hillsborough is one of five Florida counties whose elections practices are subject to review by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act. The attorney general has a responsibility to determine whether any procedures Tuesday had a discriminatory effect. The public cannot reasonably expect to get those answers from the official in charge of the botched operation as he heads toward the door.
Some serious work also waits for Busansky. She is putting together a technical team to examine the delay in counting the votes. She also will review financial and training records to get a fuller picture of what went wrong and how to avoid another breakdown in the future.
Busansky inherits the most secretive operation in county government. She will need to break down the wall Johnson built between himself and the public. The agency has many good, dedicated employees. But morale is terrible. Busansky needs to make voters aware that there is a new supervisor, a new regard for detail and a new era of openness at the elections office. Those ideals, put into action, will get more residents involved in the democratic process and restore confidence in an office that has been badly compromised.