Voter Education: The Key to Election Reform Success Lessons from Florida
Over a dozen national task forces and commissions have analyzed the 2000 presidential election and concluded that electoral system reforms are imperative not just in Florida, but nationwide. Among the common recommendations are elimination of punch card ballots, enhancement of registration procedures and outreach, provision of more accurate voter lists, clear delineation of appeals processes, establishment of voter rights and responsibilities, clarification of recount rules and procedures, securing of accessible polling places, better facilitation of voting and proper counting of absentee ballots, and ensuring provisional ballots available at each precinct. For these reforms to be most effective, the reports say, better voter education is needed, and elections officials and poll workers must receive better training.
Florida has passed laws mandating better voter education, along with many other electoral reforms, in both the 2001 and 2002 legislative sessions. The sweeping Florida Election Reform Act of 2001 requires all 67 county supervisors of elections to file voter education plans with the Division of Elections in the Florida Department of State in order to qualify for state funds. (The Act appropriated nearly $6 million for voter education in fiscal year 2001-2002 in addition to $24 million for purchase of new voting equipment, fiscal years 2001-2003.) Laws passed in the 2002 session broaden the scope of voter education responsibilities, more definitively spell out voter rights, and ensure that Florida’s electoral system conforms with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
This Article details the content and thrust of Florida s voter education efforts and examines the creative educational efforts underway at the local level that other states’ communities would do well to follow, lest they become the objects of major litigation, the sites of political furor, and the objects of unwanted national attention.