TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The state that turned the 2000 presidential election into turmoil with confusing butterfly ballots and hanging chads is conducting elections differently this time around, embarrassed into overhauling everything from its machinery to its recount rules.
But one thing is still the same going into Election Day — it's far from clear who is going to win the state, and the prospect of another recount remains.
The most obvious change that Florida has made since 2000 is its equipment — the infamous punch-card ballots with their hanging and pregnant chads have been replaced by optical scan systems and touch-screen machines.
Most of Florida will use the optical scan systems, which worked pretty well four years ago. Voters fill in an oval or complete an incomplete line on a paper ballot to indicate their choice, and an optical scanner reads their ballot.
Fifteen counties use touch-screen machines, where voters indicate their selection by touching spaces on a computer screen. There is no paper ballot.
Congress also required states to offer provisional ballots, which allow people to vote even if they're told they're not on a precinct's voter lists. Elections officials will later verify if the ballots are legal and count them if they are. Some voters complained in 2000 of being turned away from the polls even though they were legally entitled to vote.
If the initial returns indicate the margin of victory in a particular race is one-half of 1 percent or less, local elections officials must order a machine recount, unless the losing candidate declines.
In the 52 counties that use optical scan voting machines, a machine recount is done by simply running the paper ballots back through the scanners. If officials find a damaged ballot that can't be read, a duplicate is made and run back through the counting machine. That tabulation will then be presumed correct.
In the 15 counties with touch-screen machines, officials will have to compare precinct-level results with the county returns. If there is a discrepancy, the precinct-level counts are presumed to be correct.
Those results must be reported to the state no later than noon on the third day after the election — Friday.
If the margin of victory after that machine recount is less than one quarter of 1 percent, local officials must manually recount all the ballots that weren't counted because the counters registered more than one vote in a race — an overvote — or no votes, known as an undervote.
If the machine recount margin of victory is more than one quarter of 1 percent but still less than one half of 1 percent, the losing candidate or the candidate's party can request a manual recount — the deadline is 5 p.m. Friday — and officials are required to perform a manual recount.
Manual recounts are open to the public.
Optical scan ballots will be looked at and counted if "there is a clear indication on the ballot that the voter has made a definite choice." There are rules now spelling out just how that is determined.
There won't be any overvotes in touch-screen counties because the machines don't allow voters to choose two candidates.
There may be undervotes, where a voter didn't choose a candidate in a race. People doing the recount will have to determine that a voter made a "definite choice" to skip the race.
Official results are due to the state by the 11th day following the election, which this year is Nov. 13.
But what if there's a tie? As unlikely as that might be in a presidential race, there's a rule for that, too. The candidates "shall draw lots to determine who shall be elected to the office," the law says.