New system no easy touch for 134 voters in Broward

From: Popkin, Laird (WMG Corp) <"Popkin,>
Date: Fri Jan 09 2004 - 12:55:22 CST


New system no easy touch for 134 voters in Broward
Today's recount in the House District 91 race is likely to raise questions
about electronic voting, including whether paper records are necessary.

Three years after helping render punch-card voting systems obsolete, Broward
County voters have proven that no election system is foolproof.

In Tuesday's special election to fill state House seat 91, 134 Broward
voters managed to use the 2-year-old touch-screen equipment without casting
votes for any candidate.

How so many happened to cast nonvotes remains a riddle. Unlike with punch
cards or paper ballots, there's no paper record with electronic voting that
might offer a clue to the voter's intent.

The percentage of nonvotes -- 1.3 percent -- is modest compared to the days
of ''hanging'' and ''pregnant chads.'' But in Tuesday's race, every vote was
crucial. In a seven-candidate field, Ellyn Bogdanoff beat Oliver Parker by
just 12 votes.

''These were the new machines,'' said Chas Brady, a spokesman for Parker's
campaign. ``This was not supposed to happen.''

Bogdanoff had a ready explanation for the mystery. She theorized that some
of the people who cast nonvotes were among the county's true-blue Democrats
who were appalled to find a ballot with only Republicans.

''That would make a heck of a lot of sense if you were looking for a
Democrat on the ballot,'' she said.


Election Systems & Software, maker of the $17.2 million system in use in
Broward, believes that some voters failed to push the ''vote'' button at the
conclusion of the ballot -- akin to hitting the ''send'' button to dispatch
an e-mail.

The company says voters might have been confused by the ballot's ''review''
screen, since there was only one item on the ballot to review, said Broward
Mayor Ilene Lieberman, who talked to ES&S officials Wednesday.

When voters hit the ''send'' button after failing to select a candidate, the
touch screen gives them a warning. But it doesn't prevent them from voting
anyway or, in this case, nonvoting.

That's probably what many did, suggested Gisela Salas, the former Miami-Dade
deputy elections supervisor who now works for newly appointed Broward
Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes.

''It happens in every election,'' Salas said. ``There are people who make
the choice not to select any candidates.''

Brady, spokesman for Parker, the second-place finisher, doesn't buy that
theory, since there's just one page on the ballot.

''It's not as though they're on Page 5 and are tired of voting,'' he said.

And Lieberman, a Democrat, believes that anyone who would take the time to
go to the polls for such a small election would want their vote to count.

''It's incomprehensible that 134 people went to the polls and didn't cast
votes,'' said Lieberman, who served on the canvassing board that oversaw
Tuesday night's count. ``We need to find an answer to this question.''


Lieberman has advocated adding printers to the touch-screen machines to
create a paper record of each vote cast. Voters would be able to see the
printout to verify it before they leave the machine, a type of technology
that many states are beginning to consider.

Lieberman has asked ES&S, which also manufactured Miami-Dade County's voting
machines, to provide some answers on the nonvotes by 1:30 p.m. today, when
the canvassing board meets for a state-mandated recount.

None of this would have drawn much notice had the race to fill the District
91 seat in Northeast Broward not been so breathtakingly close, said Palm
Beach County Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore, who survived her own
recount in 2000 after designing a controversial ''butterfly'' ballot.

''We always pray for large margins,'' she said.

Herald staff writers Beth Reinhard and Karl Ross contributed to this report.

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Received on Mon Jan 10 00:48:09 2005

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