Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Harris Denies Election Blame 'Laughable,' Says Panelist

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Harris Denies Election Blame 'Laughable,' Says Panelist

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE -- Secretary of State Katherine Harris told the U.S. Civil Rights Commission yesterday that the state's 67 county supervisors of elections bear primary responsibility for running elections in Florida -- not her.

Earlier in the day, some supervisors blamed the state for failing to provide them with the resources to educate citizens about voting procedures.

Commissioner Victoria Wilson labeled the testimony "a merry-go-round called denial."

Harris, who testified before the commission for more than an hour, referred most questions to Clay Roberts, director of her Elections Division, saying she had delegated him authority for day-to-day operations.

Commission Chairman Mary Frances Berry scorned Harris' testimony, saying she should understand her responsibilities and be able to describe them.

"I thought Katherine Harris' description of her role was laughable," Berry told reporters afterward. "That's the way I put it. I thought it was laughable. Laughable. Ha, ha, ha."

The commission wound up two days of hearings in Tallahassee yesterday and will continue in Miami next month. It hopes to complete its investigation into allegations of voting irregularities in Florida by the end of March.

Harris, who came under fire from Democrats when she opposed manual recounts of ballots in the presidential race, said she was just following the law, which she said gave her no discretion.

That brought criticism from commission Vice Chairman Cruz Reynoso, who said she could have allowed Palm Beach County to finish its recount after a 5 p.m. Sunday deadline by simply not opening her office until Monday morning, as the Florida Supreme Court order permitted.

"Why in the world did you simply not open the office on Sunday?" Reynoso asked.

Harris said the decision to open the office was made before it was known that Palm Beach would be late.

Harris said the disputed election provided a wake-up call that should allow elections officials to get more money from the state this year to replace inadequate voting equipment and provide education for voters.

Three county supervisors of elections told the commission that they got no money from state or county governments to educate voters and had to raise their own.

Leon County Supervisor Ion Sancho said the state was spending $35 million a year to tell people how to buy lottery tickets and nothing to teach them how to vote.

Sancho said election reforms were generally lumped with campaign-finance reforms, which were usually killed by the Legislature.

Madison County Supervisor Linda Howell said a state list of supposed felons whose civil rights were not restored was so flawed that it could not be used for purging voting rolls.

Howell did not have to look far for an example of people erroneously identified as felons. …

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