Who Really Won?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Coming Soon in FLA: One Stop Election Stealing

As far as overseeing elections, Florida's secretaries of state haven't exactly generated positive buzz so far this century.

Let us not dwell on infamous Election 2000. Even last year's presidential election challenged the administrative abilities of Florida's Secretary of State.

Florida's place as one of the states with "the most egregious, or at least alleged egregious, irregularities of voting" was reaffirmed just last week by a ranking member of Congress, whose committee was stood up by Glenda Hood during its inquiry into national election reforms.

The state office's reputation is due largely to the unreliability of its list of former felons who should have been allowed to vote once their civil rights had been restored, but weren't. It took local supervisors of elections to attempt to straighten this out. Likewise, the Secretary of State's supreme overconfidence in the veracity of voting equipment that had no ability to produce a "paper trail" flew in the face of major and serious legal challenges.

Yet on Wednesday, Ms. Hood sent to the Legislature a last-minute bill usurping and centralizing in her appointed office the authority currently held by the elected supervisors of elections in all 67 counties.

The proposal basically renders these constitutional officers paper-shufflers, putting the major decisions about voters, registration and the carrying out of elections in the hands of a novice staff of 22 people here in Tallahassee.

The bill inexplicably includes unprecedented penalty language that is quite simply fightin' words to supervisors. In this bill, they're described as potential "violators" if they willfully fail to follow "directives issued by the Secretary of State."

Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho has been a national voice of authority on how to properly conduct an election - and something of a pain in the side to Ms. Hood and Gov. Jeb Bush, whom he has often challenged. Mr. Sancho is rightfully steamed at this run at centralizing the complex responsibility of running elections - a responsibility that Florida voters and the constitution give to county supervisors - in Ms. Hood's office.

"This is really a radical reorganization of how elections are administered in Florida," said Mr. Sancho. "This is akin to saying we have 67 sheriffs in Florida but now they are all subject to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which will tell them how to police their jurisdiction."

It's also troubling that this 200-plus-page rewrite of the election law comes less than three weeks before the 2005 legislative session, too late for supervisors of elections to find sponsors for and file alternative bills. And, oddly, this whopper of a change wasn't even mentioned in a joint house-senate committee meeting on election reforms two weeks ago.

Ms. Hood, this takes some kind of nerve.