Election reform in Florida will rid the state of chads, provide grants to counties for new voting machines and will include an element of campaign finance reform Democrats deemed "transparently partisan."
The final reform measure cleared conference committee Wednesday -- and will next be taken up by both chambers by Friday evening before heading to the governors desk.
The measure provides $6 million for voter and poll worker education and $24 million over two years for the counties to buy optical scan voting machines.
Because Orange, Volusia and Seminole counties already have precinct-level scan machines, they will be able to use their state grants for whatever they choose. Orange will receive $865,250, Volusia will receive $645,000 and Seminole will receive $498,750.
After vowing not to weigh in on campaign finance reform, Republicans decided to disqualify out-of-state contributions to statewide candidates from receiving public matching funds.
"We ought to be embarrassed by that," said Sen. Rod Smith, D-Gainesville. Smith said election reform should focus strictly on fixing the problems exposed by last years 36-day election morass.
"I fear we have simply authored the prologue of the next [election fiasco]," he said.
Senate Democratic leader Tom Rossin dubbed the final reform effort as "the Jeb Bush Re-Election Act." Democrats assailed the campaign finance change because Bush, alone among statewide candidates in recent years, has raised enough money to compete without matching dollars -- thus avoiding the spending limits that accompany the match.
Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan, dismissed Democratic protests as "partisan posing" and declared the final election package a success.
"Im delighted that we have such a great bill," said Brogan, who worked behind the scenes to ensure reform passed this session. "Like the governor said, this is arguably the most important piece of legislation we have to pass this session."
Reform legislation will eliminate the second-primary, or runoff election, but only temporarily until 2004.
In 2004, legislators will have to decide whether to ax the runoffs for good. County election supervisors will not be required to run without party registration -- though that issue could return next year, said Rep. J. Dudley Goodlette, R-Naples.
Jon Steinman can be reached at (850) 222-5564 or Jsteinman@orlandosentinel.com