1.29.2008

Was it really too much to ask for a Florida election with no irregularities?

Florida still has a lot of work to do to clean up its electoral process. In fact, there is anecdotal evidence that independents are being allowed to vote in the GOP primary. And if that is a widespread phenomenon, it could lift John McCain to victory in today's results.

Florida's primary is closed. That means that only registered Republicans can vote in the GOP primary (and registered Democrats in their party's). Independents cannot participate in primaries in this state. This is obviously a huge disadvantage for John McCain, who won independents in New Hampshire and South Carolina by wide margins whereas he had trouble pulling ahead among registered Republicans, tying Romney in NH and Huckabee in SC among that group. So the fact that Florida is the first closed primary (there are many more on February 5th) is a major test for McCain's appeal.

But also on the ballot today is a referendum on property taxes. The campaign for that has been raging for months, with Governor Crist, labor unions and many other groups duking it out on the airwaves and in a multi-million campaign effort. Independents are naturally allowed to participate in this referendum, so many of them went to the polls today to do just that.

Now, it appears that some of these independents ended up voting in the presidential primaries as well, presumably because their polling place only had Democratic and Republican types of ballots. And if that is confirmed to have happened at many places and to involve many people, expect McCain to receive many votes he shouldn't be receiving. Two separate incidents were described in the Sun-Sentinel today. The first involved "Robin Garrett, a registered independent:"

She signed in and was handed a voting slip. She then handed it to a poll worker, who asked which ballot style she needed: “Democrat or Republican?”
“I was taken aback by the question,” said Garrett, who made a trip to the polls to vote on the property tax amendment. But she said she played ignorant and blurted out, “Republican.”
She then put her card in the screen and the Republican field popped up. She cast a ballot and went on her way.

The second is even more problematic, as the independent voter actually told the poll workers that he was not supposed to vote but they told him it was the only way he could participate in the initiative:

David Nirenberg... said poll workers insisted he choose a party ballot. "He said to me, 'Are you Democrat or Republican?' I said, 'Neither, I am independent.' He said, 'Well, you have to pick one,''' Nirenberg said... Nirenberg said he tried to explain to the poll worker that he should not vote on a party ballot because of his "no party affiliation" status...
Nirenberg said a second poll worker was called over who agreed that independents should not use party ballots, but said they had received instructions to the contrary. "He said, 'Ya know, that is kind of funny, but it was what we were told.' … I was shocked when they told me that." Nirenberg said he went ahead and voted for John McCain.

If Romney loses by a few points tonight, he could question where those "instructions to the contrary" came from, and whether there is a deliberate effort to push independents to vote in the primary here. The problem does not appear for now to be widespread enough to be considered a massive irregularity, but with Florida's history you would expect state officials to be a little more careful with such elementary problems. A closed primary is a closed primary, after all.

Naturally, there also were complaints of machines malfunctioning, the most remarkable of which involves Rush Limbaugh, the arch-conservative radio host. Limbaugh told the Palm Beach Post that he might have voted twice because the machine was not functioning correctly.

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