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Panel begins looking into Florida election reform

Members of the special panel
Members of the special panel convene Monday in Florida  

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- A specially appointed panel began meeting in Florida on Monday to look into what can be done to improve the state's election process.

This comes after the state -- and the 25 electoral votes it cast to decide the presidency -- took center stage in one of the most protracted presidential races in U.S. history.

Amid calls for a standardized voting system for the state, the panel is to consider complaints on matters ranging from how ballots were designed and read to how they were later recounted.

Also to be considered are complaints from many African-American voters that voting machines were not properly maintained or were otherwise inadequate.

About the task force

The 21-member task force, charged with studying the procedures, standards and technology of the state's election system, presents "an opportunity where we can straighten some things out," panel member James Smith told CNN.

The panel has been given a March 1 deadline, after which it makes its recommendations to the state legislature, possibly for action this year, said Smith, a former attorney general and secretary of state.

Gov. Jeb Bush
Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday during the panel meeting in Florida  

The first proposal on the table is the immediate removal of all the Sunshine State's punch-card ballot machines -- used in 24 of 67 counties -- in favor of optical scanners.

"The voting system used by almost every major urban county was based on 1970s technology and that led to a large number of errors made by voters on election day that effectively negated thousands of votes," said Pam Iorio, an election supervisor in Hillsborough County.

Created by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush -- the brother of the president-elect -- to study the state's election process and recommend improvements to the state legislature, the panel is intended to be bipartisan in composition.

Smith told CNN that the group consists of a "broad spectrum" of government officials and citizens and includes at least three African Americans.

While it has no investigative or enforcement powers, the panel will turn over to civil rights authorities any evidence of wrongdoing it may uncover, Smith said.

Complaints: Many and varied

In Palm Beach County, voters complained of a confusing "butterfly" ballot that they said caused them to vote for the wrong candidate.

Other voters complained that another type of ballot, the punch card and its now-famous chad, did not register their choices. And still others complained of how the state handled the recount process.

In Duval County, African-American voters complained that voting machines were substandard.

Trouble beyond Florida

As Congress certified President-elect George W. Bush's electoral victory over the weekend, House Democrats announced that they, too, will conduct an investigation into voter problems in the 2000 campaign.

House Democratic leader, Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, said in a statement that "many Americans have lingering questions about the outcome of the national election" and that Congress "has a responsibility -- indeed, an obligation."

He said Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, will lead the review into "problems witnessed and reported across the country in the 2000 elections, and report back with his findings."


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Monday, January 8, 2001


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