Absentee Ballot Law Is A
Joke That Isn't Funny

By Jim DeFede
The Miami Herald

"Every vote should count." - Jeb Bush, upon signing into law a measure doing away with witness signatures for absentee ballots
Our governor -- what a kidder!
If we counted every vote in Florida, Jeb's brother would be spending all of his time -- and not just some of his time -- falling off his bicycle on his Texas ranch.
The only thing the bill Jeb signed Tuesday guarantees, is that Florida's elections will continue to be a joke. By taking away the witness requirement, the governor and the Legislature not only made it easier for corruption to take place -- which in itself is a fairly amazing feat -- but they have also made it more difficult to catch.
The folks in Tallahassee, at the urging of elections supervisors across the state, claim the witness requirement was too burdensome on some people and that 2,000 absentee ballots had to be discarded this year during the presidential primary because they didn't have the required signature.
You don't change the rules just because a few people can't follow them. You work on making the rules better understood. After all, how hard is it to get someone to witness a ballot? Anyone can do it. A family member. A friend. A neighbor. The mailman. Anyone.
The election supervisors in this state should be ashamed of themselves. It is becoming increasingly clear they are not interested in operating fair elections as much as they are interested in running quick and easy elections.
"Doing it easy is not necessarily doing it well," says state Rep. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat who spoke out against the no-signature requirement. "A smooth election is important, but it is more important it be done right and honestly."
Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, an attorney with the Election Reform Coalition, agrees.
"I don't think the people who run our elections think of themselves as being responsible for protecting the integrity of the system," she said. "For them it is just about increasing turnout and counting votes with as little hassle as possible."
The problem with doing away with the witness signature should be obvious to anyone who has lived in Miami. Absentee ballot fraud has long been a problem in South Florida, with candidates often buying ballots, or worse, stealing them from unsuspecting people in nursing homes and condominiums. A city of Miami election in 1997 was overturned after such fraud.
"If you have the same witness sign 100 or 200 ballots, it at least makes you suspicious that there might have been coercion or fraud and it gives you a place to start investigating," says Rodriguez-Taseff. "Now without the witness signatures, there is no paper trail to follow."
She believes that some of the politicians who voted to do away with the witness requirement, did so with the worst of intentions.
"The only logical reason to get rid of the one and only safeguard for absentee ballots is that there are politicians in this state who are interested in manipulating elections," she charges. "Now some people are saying it is a Republican plot to try and steal the presidential election.
"I don't believe that. I don't believe it's a Republican plot," she continues. "I think there are politicians in both parties who want to try and control the outcome of their own elections and this will help them do that. Rather than allow the will of the voters to be heard, this is a means they can disenfranchise voters and stay in office."
Rodriguez-Taseff's assessment may be scary, but I'm afraid she's right. There are politicians who every election live and die by absentee ballots. Some work the system honestly, others don't. In the past, when absentee ballot fraud has been caught, it was the witnesses who often went to jail, who in turn could point a finger at the politician. Now that link is gone.
Crooked politicians and lazy election supervisors can breathe a little easier today.
As for the rest of us, well, at least our governor has a sense of humor. htm?1c
© 2004 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.



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