Democrats win a round on Foley voting, but it's only the beginning

Between voting machines, new laws and a lot of close races, one expert predicts a perfect storm in November.

Published October 19, 2006 1:00PM (EDT)

A judge in Tallahassee has ruled that Florida election officials can't post signs at the polls advising voters that a vote for disgraced Rep. Mark Foley is actually a vote for the man the Republican Party has chosen to replace him. A Leon County circuit judge -- and man, don't those words bring back the memories? -- said that allowing the signs would effectively rewrite the ballots in violation of Florida law.

''If a constitutional amendment is confusing or obtuse, could a clarifying notice assist voters? Certainly. Is such notice permissible? The Legislature has enacted no law suggesting it would be,'' Judge Janet Ferris wrote in her opinion.

Republicans had sought the signs on the theory that voters might be informed enough to know that they don't want to reelect Foley but not so informed to understand that a vote for him is actually a vote for Joe Negron. As the Miami Herald reports, a lawyer for elections supervisors who wanted to post the signs said that there was nothing unfair about them: They'd explain that a vote for Foley was a vote for Negron, but also that a vote for Democrat Tim Mahoney is actually a vote for ... Democrat Tim Mahoney.

Ferris wasn't impressed. She said that the Florida Legislature could have adopted a sign-posting provision when it rewrote its replacement-candidate law in 2005. Having not done so, she said, the Legislature made its choice. Moreover, Ferris said, the state of the law in Florida is awfully clear because the state has had the "dubious honor" of having its election laws debated and adjudicated rather frequently.

Expect more of the same between now and November, and not just in Florida. Negron and the Republican-controlled Secretary of State's Office will appeal the decision on the signs, and more ballot-related lawsuits will surely be filed around the country before this election season is over. With dozens of states rolling out new voting machines and enforcing new voter registration laws, the New York Times says officials across the country are "bracing" for disaster. One researcher calls it a perfect storm: "Weve got new laws, new technology, heightened partisanship and a growing involvement of lawyers in the voting process," says the Century Foundation's Tova Wang. "We also have the greatest potential for problems in more places next month than in any voting season before."

The Times say that the states "considered most likely" to have voting problems are Arizona, California, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In a new Associated Press/Ipsos poll, only one-quarter of Americans say they're "very confident" that the votes they cast in elections are actually counted accurately.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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