A separate group, the Voter Protection Coalition Round Table, will have a dry run of its own, monitoring Duval County, Jacksonville, Orlando, Gadsen County, Miami-Dade County, Broward County and Palm Beach County for irregularities. It's backed principally by AFSCME and includes partners like the AFL-CIO and People for the American Way. They'll set up five call centers across the state with lawyers at the ready.
It's easy to see a few glitches — misprinted ballots, control mechanisms for electronic machines that don't work, provisional ballots that aren't properly signed — and turn it into a crisis. So far (and tempered by the knowledge that it's in their interest to say so), most election experts and administrators we talk to believe that the vote will proceed as planned on Aug. 31, that electronic machines will work nearly flawlessly, that voters will have access to polls and provisional ballots if they get confused and that the vote will be canvassed without controversy.
Among the problems they'll watch:
--The three populous Southeastern counties of Broward, Dade and Palm Beach, all using touch screen technology; and the potential (like in 2002 and in municipal elections) for some of the machines to fail to start on time or to simply fail. In May, the info-tech director of Miami-Dade County reported significant problems with his county's touch screen voting machine software, which the county now insists has been rectified. Miami-Dade has set up a county task force to monitor elections, prevent fraud and voter intimidation, and has a complaint hotline in place as well.
--Provisional ballots, which allow valid voters who show up without identification at the right precinct to cast valid votes, have to be counted separately and are filled out by hand, which could create political controversy in close races as the ballots are hand-counted in front of partisan witnesses. Yesterday, a coalition of unions sued the state to force officials to accept votes cast by valid voters who show up at the wrong precinct in the right county.
--New absentee voting/early voting rules, and voters who don't properly fill out paper ballots. Most early ballot casting in most counties will be conducted on electronic voting machines of some type, which will have to store the data until Aug. 31, when counting can begin. Miami-Dade County is leaving nothing to chance — they're paying for armed guards to protect each of their 13 early voting locations around the clock until the day of the primary.
--People trouble: in Miami-Dade, there are more than 7,000 poll workers and nearly 1,500 county staff who have direct roles in administering the election. Humans are human, and mistakes will be made. And there might not be enough poll workers to go around. The average national age of poll workers, a recent survey found, was 72.
--The felons. A court ordered the state to publicize its list of 48,000 felons it planned to purge from voter rolls. When it did, in late June, numerous errors were discovered, including the fact that the list had virtually no Hispanics on it. The state decided to let all 67 counties do the purging if they wished — and most elected not to. Just recently, the state abandoned the felon purge notion altogether until an accurate statewide voter database is completed.