(U-WIRE) TAMPA, Fla. — Tuesday’s first major Florida election, since the 2000 presidential election, was full of human mishaps and technological glitches. So many, in fact, that former Attorney General Janet Reno is considering filing a lawsuit to challenge the results of the gubernatorial primary.
Bill McBride, who gained an early lead over Reno Tuesday, will have to wait for six counties to finish tallying votes in order to determine the results.
The state attempted to avoid these problems by spending $32 million on touch-screen voting systems and $6 million on voter education after the 2000 election disaster.
Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political science professor, said the primary election was certainly an embarrassment for the state.
“This is not going to help,” MacManus said. She said the primary election makes the state and the nation aware of a re-occurring problem with elections.
“It allows the nation at large to be aware … that technology can go wrong, and poll workers need to be better trained,” she said.
Problems were reported in 14 of the 67 Florida counties and in six of the seven that were sued after the 2000 election. According to the Department of State Division of Elections, 99 percent of the precincts had reported Wednesday afternoon. McBride had 45 percent, Reno had 44 percent and Daryl Jones trailed with 11.6 percent.
An executive order was issued by Gov. Jeb Bush early Tuesday that added two hours to the election because of polling problems that occurred when the polls opened at 7 a.m. Reports that many counties were having problems with the computer-ballot machines and poll workers who never showed up to work were among the governor’s concerns.
Problems reached as far north as Jacksonville, Fla., and as far south as the Florida Keys Tuesday night and even into Wednesday afternoon. As many as 150 poll workers walked off their jobs in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, and at least one precinct remained closed four hours after voting began, according to reports by the Associated Press.
Voters failed to support Reno Tuesday. She was counting on Broward and Miami-Dade counties, her strongholds, to rack up the votes for her, but these counties suffered many technical difficulties.
Darryl Paulson, director for Arts and Sciences and a government professor at USF-St. Petersburg, said if the narrow gap between Reno and McBride grows closer, it may warrant an automatic recount.
If the gap gets any closer to half of a percent, Florida state law mandates an automatic recount, Paulson said.
Paulson said due to the lack of progress between the 2000 election and this year’s, people can’t expect new machines or other technology to solve their election-day problems.
“If anything was proved, it’s that it is not the machines but the people,” Paulson said. “They need to be better trained.”
Paulson said for the vast majority of the state, the new high-tech system worked well because the counties held training sessions and testing before the election.
“Unfortunately, the four or five counties that had problems were the same in 2000,” Paulson said. “It’s the people. Those counties need to find new supervisors and make sure people do their job.”
MacManus agreed and said Hillsborough County’s Supervisor of Elections Pam Iorio had the right idea by holding a mock election and recruiting workers.
“We need to have better training and broaden the base for poll workers,” MacManus said. “We can’t be based on seniors. It will take a revamp of poll workers (to remedy the situation).”
With the possibility of a Reno lawsuit lingering, officials said Wednesday that they couldn’t predict when all the votes would be counted.
Paulson believes Reno was robbed because the districts having problems are the ones that are usually her supporters. He said trying to overturn the situation will also be difficult.
“Reno can very easily file a lawsuit in the same kind of casting in Bush v. Gore,” Paulson said. “States must protect equal opportunity rights.”
The Democratic Party, however, may place extreme pressure on Reno to concede and support McBride if the results turn out to be in his favor.
“It will be a real problem for the Democratic Party if Reno puts up a challenge,” Paulson said. “Remember that there are only two months between the elections, and the concentration will be on whoever the winner is, not who is taking on Jeb Bush.”
Paulson added that the party stabbed Reno in the back by backing McBride from the very beginning, and they would have little sympathy for her.
Tuesday’s Democratic primary places Florida once again in the spotlight of the nation and perpetuates Florida’s shaky election reputation, Paulson said.
“It shows Florida’s inability to conduct a fair election,” he said. “We have definitely given Jay Leno and David Letterman some work for the next few weeks.”
MacManus said the only good thing that came out of Tuesday’s debacle was that it wasn’t the general election. MacManus added that no matter what the outcome, the new polling machines should work in the end.
“It’s like when you get a new computer and sit on a desk, you could leave it there or put it together,” she said. “But if you don’t read the directions, how will it ever work?”