Florida primary could be confusing, Democrats warn

TALLAHASSEE, Florid (AP) -- The ballot for the high-profile Democratic gubernatorial primary has confusing instructions that could cause the same problems that marked the 2000 presidential election, Democrats say.

The ballot instructs voters to "Vote for One Pair," meaning a combined entry of governor and lieutenant governor, though none of the candidates has chosen a running mate.

Voters who took the instruction literally would "overvote" and nullify their choice, Democrats said Saturday.

Under the names of gubernatorial candidates Daryl Jones, Bill McBride and Janet Reno, the ballot reads "Not Yet Designated" in place of a lieutenant governor candidate.

Party chairman Bob Poe said Saturday he would ask Secretary of State Jim Smith on Monday to change the ballot language. Smith's office was closed Saturday and phone messages were not returned. Poe also said the party is considering court action.

"This confusing language poses a serious threat to the integrity of the primary ballot," Poe said.

Poe said the language needs to be changed quickly because ballots are being mailed to overseas voters now for the September 10 primary. Gov. Jeb Bush is unopposed for the Republican nomination.

New voting systems put in place after the 2000 presidential race catch overvotes and allow voters to correct them. Computerized "touch screen" voting machines in 15 counties make it impossible to vote twice. And new scanners in 52 counties with paper ballots detect "overvotes" before voters leave the polls.

The impact would mostly fall on thousands of absentee voters in all 67 counties because there is no mechanism that would catch an overvote, Democrats said.

Sarah Jane Bradshaw, assistant director of the office's elections division, said she wrote the new wording to replace language that was even more confusing.

"I feel very confident that we will be addressing and fine-tuning the rules after the election," Bradshaw told the St. Petersburg Times. "Election law is an ongoing process."

The instructions "Vote for Group" and "Vote for One Group" is blamed for prompting thousands of Floridians to vote for more than one presidential ticket in November 2000.

About 113,000 Floridians nullified their ballots with overvotesin the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. More than 59,000 of those voters lived in counties where ballots told them to vote for a "group." Bush won by 537 votes.

"The whole world is watching us. A mistake like this is a total embarrassment for the state," said Nicole Harburger, campaign spokeswoman for Reno. "This ballot virtually guarantees that people in Florida will be overvoting and that ballots will be lost in the process."

"It's just incredible that they're screwing up another one," McBride campaign spokesman Alan Stonecipher said.

Hillsborough County on Saturday held a mock election to test its new touchscreen voting machines. The machines cost $12 million and are the first change in the voting routine in 26 years in the county, which has 516,000 registered voters and includes the city of Tampa.

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