|Election reform in Florida? Gimme a break: "The commission had invited Gov. Jeb Bush, Secretary of State Katherine Harris and Miami-Dade elections supervisor David Leahy to give a first-hand update on the reforms. But none of them appeared ... ''The commission could have played a constructive role in the election reform effort, but it squandered its opportunity,'' [ Jeb] Bush said."
Active Link. Posted on Fri, Jun. 21, 2002
More election troubles foreseen
Panel hears complaints
By ANDREA ROBINSON
Predicting a repeat of confusion Florida voters encountered in 2000, civil rights leaders and county elections officials on Thursday told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that the state deserves an ''F'' for its recent voter-reform efforts.
Led off by state Sen. Kendrick Meek, speakers at a daylong session in downtown Miami complained the state had not provided enough funds or time to educate voters about the new equipment or address accessibility issues for disabled voters and those not proficient in English language.
They predicted that new polling procedures and redistricting changes will create major problems in the upcoming Sept. 10 primary, when 41 of Florida's 67 counties will be required to use new voting equipment.
''I know there's going to be mass confusion on election day,'' said Meek, D-Miami.
The succession of speaker complaints prompted commission chairwoman Mary Frances Berry to quip that upcoming election season was ``a mini-disaster waiting to happen.''
She said the commission would monitor education and outreach efforts in the state.
''The fear is some of the same problems that happened before will happen again,'' Berry said. ``We will be monitoring this and hope that today's proceedings contribute to strong efforts to get these problems solved before September.''
The 45-year-old commission is an independent, fact-finding body created to investigate complaints of voting rights denied because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin or disabilities. The seven-member panel has subpoena power and staff investigators, and can make recommendations to the president and Congress. But it lacks any authority to mandate changes.
The session in the Hyatt Regency Miami was called to gauge the effectiveness of the election reforms act approved last year by the Florida Legislature. Those changes were approved in response to a flood of complaints after the 2000 presidential election.
The new law, among other things, institutes provisional ballots when a voter's qualifications can't be immediately verified, bans the use of the notorious punch-card ballots and requires the state to have a uniform recount system in close elections.
Berry lauded parts of the legislation, saying ''it seems to have solved problems of counting procedures for ballots.'' But she added that the measure didn't go far enough in resolving all of the 2000 election problems.
In her opening statement, Berry said the commission had invited Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris as well as Miami-Dade elections supervisor David Leahy to give a first-hand update on the reforms. But none of them appeared.
''The commission is especially disappointed that Bush declined to join us, and did not send a representative because of his earlier statements that he would cooperate with this commission and would do so without a subpoena compelling him to do so,'' Berry said.
In a statement released late Thursday, Bush criticized the civil rights panel as ``a badly discredited institution.''
''The commission could have played a constructive role in the election reform effort, but it squandered its opportunity,'' Bush said. ``Now, under the guise of monitoring Florida's election reforms, the commission is back to reopen controversies that most Floridians have long forgotten.''
Those who testified at the briefing remembered plenty.
Speakers included advocates from the ACLU, disability organizations and Haitian and Hispanic activists, as well as two county elections supervisors, Miriam Oliphant from Broward and Ion Sancho from Leon.
Both counties recently settled a federal voting-rights suit filed by the NAACP and other organizations that alleged unfair practices prevented black voters in particular from casting ballots in 2000, or prevented their ballots from being counted.
Oliphant said that except for ballot counting, the new law did not provide for uniform election standards statewide, leaving many procedural decisions up to each county.
''It's an ongoing battle as to who should do what,'' she said.''
Sancho said the state required training of all poll workers, but didn't tell counties how that should be done. He said lawmakers also did not mandate consequences for counties that don't educate voters.
He said problems with new voting equipment are greatest in the first year.
``We're going to have an interesting time on Sept. 10.''
|In recent years, highly contested statewide elections, notably the 2000 presidential race, have been dead heats, and Democrats hold a slight advantage in voter registration ... Under questionable Republican redistricting, the GOP is expected to build on its congressional seats.
Active Link Posted on Thu, June 20, 2002
Halt elections under GOP-drawn districts, foes of plan say
BY CATHERINE WILSON
Challengers to Florida's congressional and legislative redistricting plans dropped some of their claims Wednesday but insisted the state should not hold any elections under the Republican-drawn lines.
Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, a Democrat, and the Rev. Victor Curry, a black community activist in Miami, want a three-judge federal panel to issue an injunction to halt elections until a new plan is in place.
Republicans say the challengers have not met the legal requirements for changing boundary lines adopted by the Legislature in response to the 2002 census.
Judges agreed to hear final arguments Thursday in Tallahassee after a seven-day trial earlier this month in Miami. Their options include endorsing the Republican plan, choosing from among alternatives and ordering a new one.
Attorneys on both sides outlined the strengths of their cases in 200 pages of paperwork filed this week.
Attorneys for U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch, a Broward County Democrat, Martinez and Curry contend the Republican plan illegally loaded Democrats into six congressional seats to get more Republicans elected elsewhere.
Under Republican lines, the GOP is expected to build on its 15 congressional seats and take at least 18 of 25 seats this year.
In recent years, highly contested statewide elections, notably the 2000 presidential race, have been dead heats, and Democrats hold a slight advantage in voter registration.
Martinez and Curry also want the state to stop using write-in candidates as justification for halting open primaries.
But their attorneys dropped complaints about state Senate lines and claims of discrimination against non-Cuban Hispanics.
They also narrowed claims that the new plan unfairly minimizes the clout of black voters to the districts of U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar and five state House districts in Miami-Dade County.
|Dodging education reform: Gov. Jeb Bush passed a controversial bill in May requiring that future citizen-proposed constitutional amendments include a 50-word cost estimate. ... Citizen initiatives that had already secured a place on the ballot at the time the law passed won't have a cost estimate. Nor will proposed amendments placed there by the Legislature.
''We're not looking to dodge the numbers, but the governor wants to hold us to a standard even he and the Legislature don't subscribe to.''
Active Link Posted on Sat, Jun. 22, 2002
State releases school plans' costs
Two proposed amendments get price estimates
BY JONI JAMES
TALLAHASSEE - A proposed state constitutional amendment that would force lawmakers to reduce the size of public school classes would cost Florida somewhere between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion a year in teacher salaries by 2010, according to a preliminary estimate from the Legislature's economic research office.
And providing the physical classroom space for the plan backed by state Sen. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, would cost between $4.5 billion and $10 billion over the plan's eight-year implementation period, the office estimates. By comparison, Florida in 2002-03 is expected to spend $9.8 billion to operate public schools and build new facilities. The Legislature's Office of Demographic & Economic Research -- which provides all sorts of data for House and Senate members -- has also estimated the cost of another proposed amendment sponsored by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas to provide free pre-kindergarten education to 4-year-olds.
The office estimates a pre-kindergarten program serving roughly twice as many children as now take part in government-paid child-care programs or Head Start would cost $357.6 million annually for a 10-month program and $516.6 million if it operated year-round.
Penelas has estimated that the cost would be between $250 million and $350 million annually. Michelle Ubben, spokeswoman for the pre-kindergarten effort, said the state estimate assumes more children will participate than the campaign does.
Meek has not released an estimate for his proposal.
The numbers are the first state estimates to be released since lawmakers, at Gov. Jeb Bush's request, passed a controversial bill in May requiring that future citizen-proposed constitutional amendments include a 50-word cost estimate.
They will be among several estimates considered next week in a meeting of a four-person team of economists who will determine the official, final estimate.
Bush said he wanted to make sure voters were informed before voting for potentially cost-prohibitive programs.
But Meek and Penelas charge the law was designed to handicap their chances. The pair filed a lawsuit in Leon County Thursday calling the law unconstitutional because it injects a state opinion about a citizen measure on the ballot. And they charge it's discriminatory, since it won't apply to all constitutional amendments likely to be decided at the November election.
Citizen initiatives that had already secured a place on the ballot at the time the law passed won't have a cost estimate. Nor will proposed amendments placed there by the Legislature.
''We're not looking to dodge the numbers, but the governor wants to hold us to a standard even he and the Legislature don't subscribe to,'' Meek said.
But Meek and Penelas' legal challenge won't be resolved by Thursday, when the so-called Revenue Estimating Conference will meet to decide on the official cost estimate and how it will be presented on the ballot.
The preliminary estimates circulated this week represent the guesses of just one of the team -- Ed Montanaro, coordinator of the joint legislative economic research office.
''We're still listening to people, and I think there's no doubt these numbers will change,'' Montanaro said. ``But this is a starting point.''
The three other representatives on the committee, budget staff for either the governor's office, the Senate or the House, said on Friday that they didn't expect to provide their own estimates until the meeting.
But the numbers from Montanaro's shop point out how many educated assumptions the economists will make in building a final estimate because the proposed amendments give little guidance on implementation. And they show how many different ways those numbers could be cast -- whether in an annualized form or a cumulative total.
The pre-K measure, for example, simply says the state would fund voluntary ''high quality'' pre-K programs. But no definition is given for what high quality means.
Montanaro's estimate draws on programs in two states, Georgia and Oklahoma, where roughly 70 percent of 4-year-olds receive state vouchers to attend either public or private pre-K programs. And he based his per-student, per-day cost estimate of $24.08 on a survey of select private programs across Florida that meet the standards of a national pre-K certification program.
In building the class-size measure estimates, Montanaro considered three different cost scenarios for providing the physical buildings the plan would require: portable classrooms on existing school campuses; new permanent buildings on existing campuses; or newly built stand-alone schools. Likewise, he considered how much it would cost to pay teachers based on whether they were all entry-level hires or included more experienced personnel.
Meek's proposal would require that by 2010 there be no more than 18 students per class in kindergarten through third grade, 22 students in fourth grade through eighth grade and 25 students in high school. Florida classrooms now average 23 students through the fifth grade and about 26 in middle and high schools.