Fix Florida’s broken election system
By Dorothy Inman-Johnson
Special to the Outlook
In the 2000 presidential election, it was Florida’s election system that became the laughing stock of the nation, not because it was funny, but because no one could believe we could be that bad at counting votes. You would think after that fiasco, Florida’s Governor, Legislature, and Secretary of State would have made correcting the problem a priority. However, the national embarrassment of Florida’s 2018 mid-term election in South Florida is proof nothing was done. Since 2000, Florida governors with the power to correct the problem — Jeb Bush, Charlie Crist, and Rick Scott — have all been Republicans and have done nothing to correct the glitches in our state’s election system; even with the same political party controlling the office of Secretary of State and the Florida Legislature.
Throughout that same period, Leon County has managed to conduct its elections without a single screw up, and for decades before the 2000 election. Common sense would dictate that maybe the state could learn something from a county that has been doing it right. Under longtime Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho and now under Supervisor Mark Early, elections in the Florida capital have been conducted so smoothly that there has never been a worry. So why can’t they get it right in South Florida, a population center for the state? There have been no “hanging chads” in Leon County, just simple paper ballots with choices clearly delineated with a bubble beside each to fill in. Then the ballot is fed by the voter into the voting machine. What could be more simple and why can’t Palm Beach and Broward figure it out by now?
Yes, Broward and Palm Beach have Democratic election supervisors. But the problem is a statewide problem when the whole state is ridiculed for having a backward election process when these massive problems blow up a national election. The Division of Elections, under the authority of the Florida Secretary of State and the Governor, clearly has the responsibility for ensuring that our elections are conducted fairly and smoothly. However, Governor Rick Scott and his administration did nothing prior to the election to ensure the integrity of the process. Yet, when problems arose during the vote count for the 2018 Election, he was the first to cry foul in his attempt to stop a recount that might have hurt his chances of being elected to a U.S. Senate seat. He insisted the recount was an attempt by Democrats “to steal the election”. Those sentiments were echoed by Trump and Rubio, all of whom knew better. They all know the law that a state-mandated recount is required when the margin separating the votes of the two top candidates is within 0.5 percent. That was the case in the races for Governor, U.S. Senate, and Agriculture Commissioner. Though the recount resulted in victories for Republicans Scott and Desantis, it was the Democrat, Nikki Fried, who was elected Agriculture Commissioner.
Scott further insisted there was voter fraud in Broward and Palm Beach and requested an investigation into his allegations by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). To its credit, FDLE refused to be drawn into this political fight by noting there was no evidence of voter fraud. That decision led Scott to file a lawsuit to stop the vote count. Though George W. Bush was successful in 2000 in winning an election victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, it did not work for Scott; though the recount did, in the end, give him the win.
If Governor Desantis, as most Americans do, believes the Florida voting system is flawed, he has an obligation to fix it before the 2020 election and another embarrassing election that leaves no one satisfied. He and his administration could start by looking at what has made the coordination of elections in his new hometown so successful, and use Leon County as a model for correcting the problems in Broward, Palm Beach, and other less efficient county operations. Eighteen years of Republican state governance with no attention to this problem is too long. It’s past time to fix our election machines and process to ensure we will not have to endure another mind-numbing 2000 or 2018 election situation. Florida voters deserve much better.
Special note: This is my last column, not because I have nothing more to say, but because other opportunities leave me little time to devote to saying it. I wish to express my deep appreciation to my faithful readers and the Capital Outlook Newspaper for the opportunity.