Skip to comments.House Admin Staffers to Observe Florida Elections
Posted on 10/14/2002 6:41:07 AM PDT by Ragtime Cowgirl
October 14, 2002
House Admin Staffers to Observe Florida Elections
With Florida set to have its first general election since implementing broad balloting reforms, the House Administration Committee plans to send observers to the state to be the "eyes and ears" of Congress on Nov. 5.
Rep.Mark Foley (R-Fla.) recently asked Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) to have committee staff present during the balloting.
"I think it is a reasonable request," Ney said. "We were requested by Mr. Foley due to the fact that we are deeply involved in the whole election reform process."
Ney was a lead sponsor of the election reform bill that passed the House Thursday night. Conferees - including Ney, House Administration ranking member Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) - finished hammering out a compromise package earlier this month that included measures for provisional voting, adverting vote fraud and protecting private balloting.
The legislation is a direct response to the voting debacles of two years ago, which were especially visible in Florida. The state passed its own election reform measures, which were first implemented for the Sept. 10 primary.
Reacting to reports of voting irregularities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties during the primary, Foley specifically asked Ney for election observers in those two localities. Ney hasn't yet indicated that committee staff will be focused there or anywhere else in the state.
In discussing the logistics of sending Congressional staff to Florida, the chairman specifically distinguished between two distinct roles the House Administration Committee plays with regard to elections.
The first fulfills the House's constitutional role in seating its own Members - which often requires the committee to dispatch staff to observe recounts to assure that the chamber seats the rightful winner. The second deals with legislative efforts to reform the elections process.
Ney specified that the committee staffers sent to the Sunshine State on Election Day will act as part of the latter effort. "We're not officially down there through House rules," he said, referring to the specific, House-dictated role the committee plays as recount observers in close elections. "We'll be there taking a look at what's happening in the elections process."
More than 40 states are going through the process of overhauling their election equipment and processes, and the committee hopes to observe the results of a pioneering state's reform and report its findings to the Election Assistance Commission, which would be formed under the federal election-reform statute.
That bill also authorizes $3.8 billion over the next three years to help states replace and renovate their voting equipment, train poll workers, educate voters and upgrade voter lists.
Asked if Foley was happy with Ney's response to his request, spokesman Chris Paulitz said: "He just wanted them to go down and act as Congress' eyes and ears. If something does go wrong, Mark wants one account of what happened. That way it's not second hand."
But if something did go wrong, or simply in a case of a very close vote tally on election night, the committee would be there anyway.
"We could literally be called to California, Texas, New York or anywhere," Ney said. "If there was a disputed election, we would send people down there officially."
The Constitution prescribes that each chamber "be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members." As such, the House, through the House Administration Committee, seeks to ensure that a close election is handled accurately.
At the request of any candidate, the committee sends bipartisan teams of staffers to observe the vote-counting or recanvassing.
Last cycle, the committee was dispatched to observe counting in races involving Reps. Mark Kennedy (R-Minn.), Clay Shaw (R-Fla.), Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rush Holt (D-N.J.).
The observers are instructed not to interfere with the certification of the winner, but their presence is meant to send the message that the House has a vested interest in the integrity of the process that elects its Members.
Moreover, should the House have to deliberate and ultimately decide which candidate to seat - as it notoriously did in Indiana's "Bloody 8th" in 1984 - the committee needs to have a first-hand account of the vote counting.
Within 30 days of a state's certification of an election, one of the candidates may contest the results, and the House Administration Committee then has the responsibility of evaluating the contest's merits. At that time the panel can choose one of three venues: dismiss the contest on grounds that the facts it alleges are insufficient to overturn the election or that there isn't enough evidence to support them; launch its own investigation; or let the steps outlined in the Federal Contested Elections Act proceed without direct involvement. The committee generally appoints task forces to deal with each disputed contest.
During that time both sides gather evidence, subpoena witnesses and file briefs, and then the committee votes. The matter is then taken to the House floor, where the body either approves the committee's dismissal or approves the decision by the committee to proceed with the contest.
The most recent contested election was in 1996 in the California district now represented by Rep.Loretta Sanchez (D). In that case, the House sided with the Democrat over former Rep. Bob Dornan (R). During the proceedings, Dornan was barred from using the floor privileges accorded to former Members because of his aggressive efforts to persuade ex-colleagues to call for a special election between him and Sanchez.
As for this year, if House Administration is requested to be in more districts than there are committee staffers, the panel, with the approval of Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), would dispatch Congressional staff from other offices with experience in election monitoring.
I am heartened by the news that the Republicans seem to be onto this. It is not getting a lot of airplay now, but it seems they are putting poll watchers into all these corrupt districts.
I have also been following a lot of these stories, and the Repubs are definitely insinuating the Democrat counties are stealing elections.
Florida is a former Jim Crow State, so the Feds can do a lot of things to make sure elections go smoothly. The feds have to approve of voting law changes as well.
This election is certainly not boring. I wouldn't mind a little boring. (^;
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