NY Times: Florida Shifting to Voting System With Paper Trail

From: Arthur Keller <voting_at_kellers_dot_org>
Date: Fri Feb 02 2007 - 03:05:17 CST


February 2, 2007

Florida Shifting to Voting System With Paper Trail
DELRAY BEACH, Fla., Feb. 1 - Gov. Charlie Crist announced plans on
Thursday to abandon the touch-screen voting machines that many of
Florida's counties installed after the disputed 2000 presidential
election. The state will instead adopt a system of casting paper
ballots counted by scanning machines in time for the 2008
presidential election.
Voting experts said Florida's move, coupled with new federal voting
legislation expected to pass this year, could be the death knell for
the paperless electronic touch-screen machines. If as expected the
Florida Legislature approves the $32.5 million cost of the change, it
would be the nation's biggest repudiation yet of touch-screen voting,
which was widely embraced after the 2000 recount as a
state-of-the-art means of restoring confidence that every vote would
Several counties around the country, including Cuyahoga in Ohio and
Sarasota in Florida, are moving toward exchanging touch-screen
machines for ones that provide a paper trail. But Florida could
become the first state that invested heavily in the recent rush to
touch screens to reject them so sweepingly.
"Florida is like a synonym for election problems; it's the Bermuda
Triangle of elections," said Warren Stewart, policy director of
VoteTrust USA, a nonprofit group that says optical scanners are more
reliable than touch screens. "For Florida to be clearly contemplating
moving away from touch screens to the greatest extent possible is
truly significant."
Other states that rushed to buy the touch-screen machines are also
abandoning them. Earlier this week, the Virginia Senate passed a bill
that would phase out the machines as they wore out, and replace them
with optical scanners. The Maryland legislature also seems determined
to order a switch from the paperless touch screens, though it is not
clear yet if it will require the use of optical scanners or just
allow paper printers to be added to the touch screens.
On Monday, Representative Rush D. Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, plans
to introduce a bill in Congress that would require all voting
machines nationwide to produce paper records through which voters can
verify that their ballots were recorded correctly. A majority of
House members have endorsed the proposal, and the changes have strong
support among Senate Democrats. Mr. Holt's bill would also
substantially toughen the requirements for the touch-screen machines
that have printers, and experts say this could give even more impetus
to the shift toward the optical scanning systems.
Mr. Crist, a Republican, at times drew whoops and applause when he
announced his plan at the South County Civic Center in Palm Beach
County, the epicenter of the 2000 election standoff and home of the
infamous "butterfly ballot" that confused many voters. The touch
screens had replaced the punch-card systems that caused widespread
problems that year.
"You should, when you go vote, be able to have a record of it," Mr.
Crist told a few hundred mostly older citizens at the civic center,
in Delray Beach, where many residents said they accidentally voted
for Patrick J. Buchanan in 2000 instead of Al Gore because of the
confusing ballot design. "That's all we're proposing today. It's not
very complicated; it is in fact common sense. Most importantly, it is
the right thing to do."
Mr. Crist's renunciation of touch-screen voting one month after he
replaced Jeb Bush as governor of the nation's fourth-most-populous
state, suggested that the fight for paper voting records, long a pet
project of Democrats, might become more bipartisan. Mr. Crist made
the announcement with Representative Robert Wexler, a Democrat from
Delray Beach who has ardently led the movement for a paper trail and
has attacked Republicans along the way.
"I support this plan 100 percent," Mr. Wexler said before introducing
Mr. Crist. "This governor means what he says, and he's coming to
Tallahassee and he's spreading the message throughout Florida that
this isn't about Republican or Democrat, it's not about this ideology
or that; it's about unifying people and doing what's right for the
people of Florida."
The 15 Florida counties that have adopted touch-screen voting in
recent years, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and
Hillsborough, would move to optical-scan voting under the proposal
before the presidential election of 2008. The plan would give them
the option, however, of using touch-screen machines during the
state's two-week early voting period that precedes Election Day, if
the machines are modified to provide a paper trail. Those counties
represent 54 percent of the state's registered voters. Broward County
alone has bought about 6,000 touch-screen machines in recent years,
and Palm Beach County has about 4,500.
Mr. Crist said county election supervisors would explore how to make
optical-scan voting easier for blind people and for those who speak
foreign languages. In some cases, they have been able to vote without
assistance on the touch-screen machines.
Asked how he felt about discarding tens of millions of dollars worth
of touch-screen machines just years after they were acquired, Mr.
Crist said, "The price of freedom is not cheap. The importance of a
democratic system of voting that we can trust, that we can have
confidence in, is incredibly important."
Election experts estimate that paperless electronic machines were
used by about 30 percent of voters nationwide in 2006. But their
reliability has increasingly come under scrutiny, as has the
difficulty of doing recounts without a paper trail. Federal
technology experts concluded late last year that paperless
touch-screen machines could not be secured from tampering.
Some states had bought early versions of the paperless machines
before the 2000 recount, and one of them, New Mexico, switched last
year to optical scanners. But most of the machines in other states
were purchased with federal money provided under a 2002 law that
required states to upgrade from old punch-card and lever systems.
New York is planning to buy either screens with printers or optical
scanners, New Jersey is adding paper trails to its touch screens and
Connecticut is buying the optical scanners. A recent survey by
Election Data Services, a Washington consulting firm, estimated that
36 percent of the nation's counties have bought electronic machines,
including some with printers attached, while 56 percent have the
optical scan systems.
Mr. Holt said his bill would require the return to paper ballots by
next year's presidential primaries, and it would authorize $300
million in federal money to upgrade the machines. Some state and
county election officials say it could be difficult to make such
sweeping changes by then.
But, Mr. Holt said, "it depends on how badly we want to do it. The
public is getting very impatient here."
In Sarasota County last November, more than 18,000 voters who used
touch-screen machines did not have their votes recorded in the close
Congressional race between Vern Buchanan, the Republican, and
Christine Jennings, the Democrat. Mr. Buchanan took office last month
after a recount gave him a 369-vote victory, but Ms. Jennings has
Former Governor Bush, President Bush's younger brother, generally
defended touch-screen voting during his tenure and said skeptics had
fallen prey to "conspiracy theories." But leading up to the 2004
presidential election, the Republican Party of Florida sent out
fliers urging voters to use absentee ballots because of the absence
of a paper trail.
Experts say the optical scanners are less expensive than the
touch-screen systems. But Kimball W. Brace, the president of Election
Data Services, said optical scanning systems had had a slightly
higher rate of voter error than touch screens.
Abby Goodnough reported from Delray Beach, Fla., and Christopher Drew
from New York.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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Received on Wed Feb 28 23:17:05 2007

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