New Florida vote official appointed

Saturday, August 3, 2002

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Gov. Jeb Bush appointed a temporary secretary of state Friday to replace Katherine Harris, who has been criticized by Democrats for mishandling her resignation to run for Congress.

Jim Smith, a former secretary of state, becomes Florida's top elections official as the state prepares to hold its first general and state primary elections since 2000, when the election ended in a presidential recount watched around the world.

"Jim is no stranger to the office of secretary of state, and I am grateful he has agreed to serve Florida once again," Bush said. "His experience and leadership will be critical as we approach the 2002 elections."

Smith, who has been working as a lawyer and lobbyist in Tallahassee, recently served as co-chairman of a task force appointed by Bush to examine problems in the elections system following the 2000 recount.

The recount, and re-examination of thousands of votes, showed shortcomings in Florida's voting system, from ballots that weren't easily understood to machinery that didn't always record votes.

Smith said from Colorado where he was vacationing that running a credible election this year is "terribly important."

"Anywhere you go now, people still remark about the election debacle," Smith said. He said he thought the biggest improvement was the elimination of punchcard ballots. The primary is Sept. 10.

Harris submitted her resignation Thursday, saying she misunderstood the election law regarding her candidacy for Congress.

Under Florida law, Harris should have filed her letter of intent to resign by July 15 to continue as secretary of state while she ran for another office. Because she missed the filing, she had to resign immediately.

Harris said she hadn't realized the resign-to-run law covered her, thinking it applied only to officeholders whose successors would be elected. The position is being eliminated as an elected post in January.

Democrats officials have questioned whether Harris' actions were legal. One of her congressional opponents, Candice Brown McElyea, said her campaign and Democratic officials were considering legal action to try to keep Harris off the ballot.

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