The following are excerpts from a three-page letter sent by Florida Secretary of State Jim Smith to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft Wednesday afternoon seeking assistance with ongoing vote tally problems in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Dear Attorney General Ashcroft:
I write to you regarding my serious concerns about the conduct of the Sept. 10, 2002, primary election in two of Florida's 67 counties, Miami-Dade and Broward. While the performance of Florida's other 65 counties in this election rates as a significant success story, I am deeply troubled by the multitude of very serious problems that occurred in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, which may have affected the rights of an untold number of eligible voters.
Because Florida's county supervisors of elections had the primary responsibility for implementing the substantial changes in election laws and voting technology that our Legislature enacted in response to the 2000 presidential election (in addition to the usual challenges brought about by redistricting, which were amplified by a 12.5 percent increase in the number of precincts statewide and the late resolution of multiple lawsuits), they faced significant challenges. Among their many important responsibilities, each supervisor had the duty to adequately test the new state-of-the-art voting technology and ensure its proper operation on Election Day, to train poll workers in its operation and to educate voters on its use.
... I am extremely disappointed in what occurred in these two counties during the Sept. 10 primary. The (counties') two supervisors presided over chaotic conditions, with some polling places in Miami-Dade and Broward counties opening hours late on election day. Reportedly, one polling place in Miami-Dade County was not open and operational until 4 p.m.
Based upon the preliminary findings by our technical staff at the Florida Department of State's Division of Elections, these problems did not result from any significant machine malfunction, but instead stemmed from improper poll worker training, poor administrative coordination and inadequate machine testing.
... In addition to the direct funding assistance to counties... the legislature substantially reduced the chances of voter error at the polls by providing minimum standards for voting technology, while it expanded voter opportunities by creating early voting, on-demand absentee voting, and provisional ballot voting.
Regrettably, the difficulties in Miami-Dade and Broward counties have driven some to question the wisdom and effectiveness of these dramatic measures. Thus, the fate of election reform in Florida -- and perhaps our nation -- rests upon an immediate and effective response.
... Because the election preparation procedures in Miami-Dade and Broward counties need immediate attention to avoid a repetition of the same problems in this November's general election, I ask that you take whatever steps you deem necessary to participate in this review. I also request that you use the resources of the Justice Department to assist the supervisors and any locally appointed election oversight in correcting the problems that occurred in these counties on Sept. 10. My office will, of course, cooperate in any way that we can.
Secretary of State
State of Florida