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Council member to observe Florida primary

20 January 2008 - In 2000, George W. Bush became president of the USA after a month of controversy over the Florida election results. Tomorrow, non-voting council member Jan Paternotte (D66) will travel to America as a semi-official observer of the Florida primaries, to see whether similar problems can be expected in November.

In 2000, it took a month of legal battles and recounts before it was decided who had won in Florida. Poor and black people said they had been deterred from voting and a confusing ‘butterfly ballot’ made supporters of Al Gore vote for the wrong candidate. Many still believe that Gore would have won if the election had proceeded in a regular manner.

On 29 January, Florida will be holding its primaries for the presidential election in November. A group of twenty political science students from Amsterdam will travel to Florida tomorrow, to observe the primaries and to do research. The trip is paid for by the University of Amsterdam.

The Florida election is again controversial. In order to attract national attention, the state has scheduled the primaries to take place before ‘Super Tuesday’ (5 February), when over twenty states vote. As a punishment, the major Democratic candidates have pledged not to campaign in Florida.

However, with so much at stake, they are now looking for ways to turn back on that promise. For example, Paternotte’s group will attend a Hillary Clinton event. Since attendees have to pay a one dollar entrance fee, she can claim that it is not a campaign event but a fundraiser.

Last year, Florida decided to ban its 25,000 voting machines, after over 18,000 votes were lost in an election in Sarasota County. The voting machines had been bought in the first place to prevent the kind of problems that had taken place in 2000. They will still be used for the primaries.

Paternotte acknowledges that Amsterdammers may not really be in a position to criticise how Florida organises its election. Here too, voting machines have been banned because they are unreliable. Also, members of polling committees in Bos en Lommer had to interfere physically to prevent ethnic minority voters being assisted by their partner or children in 2006. Some voters needed help because of language problems or limited literacy.

In a response to the Bos en Lommer problems, D66 wants to have observers assigned to polling stations to make sure that people vote by themselves.

D66 has also argued for mobile polling stations in the Zuidas business district and at railway stations, so as to make voting easier for commuters. One might get the impression that the party wants to make voting easier for professionals, while making it more difficult for ethnic minority residents of poor districts such as Bos en Lommer.

However, Paternotte denies that this is the case: “We want to make it easier for everyone to vote by themselves”. He points out that his party now gets more votes in Bos en Lommer than in ZuiderAmstel (where the Zuidas is located), a result of young people being attracted by Bos en Lommer’s relatively cheap housing.

Paternotte’s favourite for the American presidency is John Edwards, because of his plans to fight poverty. “Many Americans have no prospects but to both work and eat at McDonalds”, Paternotte said. He does not think Edwards is likely to win, though.

During their trip, the students will keep a weblog at the website of their students’ association. Boom Chicago may make a video report to be shown on Comedy Central.

The students have no formal election observer status, since America does not allow foreign observers. However, they have been trained by former MEP and D66 party leader Lousewies van der Laan, on the basis of the OSCE Election Observation Handbook.

Image: butterfly ballot used in Florida in 2000 (photo Wikipedia / Anthony). Hyves, weblog, Bos en Lommer, New York Times


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