Feds to Monitor Florida Elections; Duval Not on List That Isn't Yet Complete

Article excerpt

Byline: David DeCamp, Times-Union staff writer

The U.S. Department of Justice will send election monitors to Florida for the Nov. 5 election, but Duval County is not yet among counties being watched.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has pledged 20 attorneys to monitor elections in Miami-Dade, Orange and Osceola counties. Those counties also had monitors in September as part of voting rights agreements with the Justice Department following the breakdowns of the 2000 election. Ashcroft said more monitors will be sent to other counties, which haven't been determined.

Florida Secretary of State Jim Smith requested further help after problems in the Sept. 10 election, particularly in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The state is trying to avoid more bungled voting next month in an election that includes a nationally watched governor's race. Gov. Jeb Bush also wrote in support of Smith's request.

The department and Smith will decide how and where the other monitors are assigned, according to letters this week between Ashcroft and Smith, which were released yesterday. Ashcroft also approved up to $100,000 for the department's National Institute of Justice to improve training and technical assistance, and reduce the chance election disputes go to court.

"Our paramount concern is to protect access to, and the integrity of, the voting process for all qualified voters," Ashcroft wrote Tuesday.

Broward is expected to be on the list, but Smith will probably not recommend Duval County receive any federal monitors, said David Host, a spokesman.

However, Duval Supervisor of Elections John Stafford said he was told by an attorney recently the county may have monitors, though he has received nothing definitive. "I have no problem with them being here," he said.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat whose district includes many of the problem precincts in Jacksonville, said the federal effort probably will be ineffective, and President Bush's administration has done little to address voting rights violations from 2000.

"I am more than skeptical that the Justice Department's motives for sending election observers to Florida are to protect the voting rights of minorities. …