Washington, DC - U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Herb Kohl (D-WI.) today urged Florida Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning to allow the Government Accountability Office access to Florida polling places on Election Day as part of a nationwide study examining voting access for aging and disabled voters during the 2008 general election.
Senators Kohl and Feinstein requested the GAO to conduct the study, which will examine actions states are taking to facilitate voting for people with disabilities and residents of long-term care facilities. The GAO randomly selected one hundred counties across the country as a representative sample of polling places. Although some states have limited access to the polls on Election Day, Florida is the only state to completely deny the GAO entry to its polling places on November 4. The GAO had sought access to four Florida counties: Miami-Dade, Broward, Pinellas and Hillsborough.
"Every vote is vital in an election. Given its high population of older people with disabilities, I am surprised that Florida is not welcoming the review of a small number of their polling places. Providing full accessibility to every voter is the law, and we need Florida's cooperation to make sure it is being upheld," said Senator Herb Kohl, Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging.
"It is vitally important that the GAO be allowed to study our nation's election system, especially in Florida, where so many seniors live." said Senator Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. " Once again, Florida will be crucial to the outcome of the presidential election. We must ensure that all Americans eligible to cast ballots in that state and across the country are not prevented from doing so because voting sites don't provide adequate access. "
The senators are asking that Secretary of State Browning reconsider and suggested ways that he could permit limited access to the GAO, including restricting access to the GAO during non-peak voting hours and interviewing polling place officials after Election Day.
Following is the text of the letter sent by Senators Kohl and Feinstein to Florida Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning:
October 22, 2008
The Honorable Kurt S. Browning
Secretary of State
Florida Department of State
R.A. Gray Building, Suite 115
500 South Bronough Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0250
Dear Secretary Browning:
As Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Administration and as Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, we requested the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a nationwide study examining voting access for people with disabilities, including aging Americans, during the 2008 general election.
GAO has engaged the study by randomly selecting a hundred counties across the country to draw a nationally representative sample of polling places. Four counties in Florida were selected for the GAO sample: Miami-Dade, Broward, Pinellas, and Hillsborough. To date, Florida is the only state to deny GAO access to polling places in the four counties selected.
We request that the State of Florida reconsider and provide GAO with minimum access to polling places in the four counties. There are several ways that limited access could be granted. For example, GAO could be permitted access to polling places only during off-peak hours, such as between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm for 30 to 45 minutes on Election Day. In addition, GAO can agree not to interview the chief polling place officials until after Election Day. If that is not feasible, then perhaps GAO could visit one polling place in each of the four counties before the polls open and conduct outside observations and measurements for the remaining seven polling places. At a minimum, GAO could be granted access to only conduct outside observations and measurements for all 8 of the polling places selected in each county.
While the Florida state statute prohibits access to polling places for certain persons, it is within the discretion of the appropriate county official to provide GAO sufficient access consistent with the statutory limitations. In 2000, Florida counties exercised their discretion and permitted access to polling places for GAO to conduct the first landmark access study on Election Day. We request similar accommodations for GAO consistent with state law on Election Day in 2008.
Florida is a key state in federal elections. It is important that GAO be granted some level of access to the polling places to include Florida in the national results and preserve the integrity of GAO's random sample protocol. Any data Florida provides will only be reported at the national level and not attributed at the state or county levels ( See Attached GAO Letter for details, August 29, 2008).
A letter is also being sent to the appropriate election official in each of the four Florida counties selected: Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, and Pinellas.
Thank you for your assistance. Veronica Gillespie of the Rules Committee staff (202-224-5648) and Cara Goldstein of the Aging Committee staff (202-224-5364) are our points of contact for this letter.
We appreciate your consideration of this request.
Herb Kohl Dianne Feinstein
Special Committee on Aging Committee on Rules and Administration
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