Florida Has Not Lost Its Knack for Turning Elections into Farces: The Latest Involved Keeping the Voting Stations Closed on Polling Day While Computers Were Reprogrammed. (America)

Article excerpt

I made one vow for 11 September this year, which I kept: I would not switch on my television at all. Instead, I decided, perversely, to get on a plane -- and, furthermore, to fly out of Dulles (where one of the doomed 11 September planes had taken off). My destination was Miami, where 11 arrived in time to witness, at first hand, the chaotic aftermath of the primary elections there -- the first since electoral chaos kept the world on a knife-edge following the presidential elections in 2000.

The main contest in Florida was to choose the Democratic candidate to oppose Jeb Bush in the forthcoming November elections -- between Bill Clinton's former attorney general, Janet Reno (who has been around Florida politics for four decades), and Bill McBride (a well-connected but largely unknown lawyer from Tampa). For months, opinion polls had put Reno, 64, despite her Parkinson's disease, well ahead of McBride. Unlike him, she refused to accept "soft" money -- funds for campaigns raised via front organisations -- which meant that she raised only $2.6m for her coffers, compared with McBride's $4.2m. She ran an old-fashioned campaign, driving around the state in a small red truck and trying to meet as many voters as possible.

But, this being America, this was not the only election: it was also to choose party candidates for the elections of dozens of state officials in November, including the likes of the agricultural commissioner. In Miami-Dade, one of 67 counties in the state, there were 13 separate referendum questions as well -- the main ones being on gay rights and on a property tax for children's welfare. This immediately gave Miami-Dade a problem: it consists of 31 distinct cities and has a larger population than 16 states. Much of it, in particular Miami itself, is linguistically divided: all official electoral material had to be in English, Spanish and Creole. voting in Miami-Dade and its neighbouring county of Broward was, therefore, a highly complicated process in the first place.

But Florida seems to have a knack of turning its elections into farces. It is an axiom of American life that elections have to be mechanised. In 2000, it was mainly the punch-card system that created the chaos, so it was abolished for 2002, with $125m spent on state-of-the-art touch-screen computers.

But problems immediately became apparent when the polls were due to open at 7am, and camera crews and photographers trailed Janet Reno as she went to cast her vote in a church hall in Kendall, a Miami suburb. …