Technology can’t save election

I think that it was at about 3 a.m., while sitting at Bill McBride’s after-election party at the Westshore Marriott, that a profound sense of deja vú set in.

I returned to a small hotel room two years ago in Clearwater, filled with political consultants, all eyes on a 15-inch television screen. We were waiting for word on who would be the next president of the United States.

The reason for the anxious waiting and intoxication in 2000: a disastrous election that left Floridians going to bed hardly knowing which way was up.

And this time around, after two years and millions of dollars spent to improve the election process, things are pretty much the same.

In South Florida, one precinct didn’t open until noon while others opened hours later than the 7 a.m. start. Also, precincts didn’t begin reporting returns until hours after they closed.

First, there was Duval County, which didn’t give correct ballots to the correct people and disenfranchised at least one voter.

And don’t forget Orange and Union counties, whose returns were so messed up they had to hand count some of their punch-card ballots.

“Is that a dimpled or hanging chad?” “I dunno.”

Florida, considered for two years a mockery when it comes to elections, has reclaimed the title of “Gooberville, U.S.A” with Tuesday night’s election disaster.

But how did this happen? We were promised newer, faster and easier returns with 33,000 new touch-screen voting machines in 26 counties across the state. What we actually got is confusion, frustration and uncertainty.

The reason: People don’t know what they’re doing.

Even the current Secretary of State Jim Smith was dumfounded by the debacle, incredulously pondering, “What have county supervisors of elections and the secretary of state’s office been doing for two years?” The confusion stems from two things: poor planning and, in some counties, poor execution.

Two examples of how the election should have been run statewide come from Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Supervisors of Elections Pam Iorio (Hillsborough) and Kurt Browning (Pasco) have been preparing for this election for months. Browning made all poll workers go through more than 10 hours of training on the new machines. The results: Pasco was one of the first counties to report, with Hillsborough having nearly flawless reporting as well.

Now, take a look at Miriam Oliphant and David Leahy, the supervisors of elections from Broward and Miami-Dade counties, respectively. Neither had adequately prepared poll workers for what to expect Tuesday. Many workers arrived at the polls at 7 a.m., not knowing the machines might take a couple hours to warm up.

By the time the machines were ready for operation, hundreds of voters had been turned away, some of whom were not anticipated to return, even after Gov. Jeb Bush extended polling hours to 9 p.m.

One woman I talked to Wednesday night mused at how we have the technology to fly missiles into areas as small as a chimney, but we can’t create voting machines that can accurately and efficiently register everyone’s vote.

While it’s funny, her statement is inaccurate. For the most part, it’s not the machines at fault; it’s the people who run them.

Joe Roma is a junior majoringin political