Fwd: Herald.com 11-22-2004 Touch screens reduced spoiled ballots.htm

From: Edmund R. Kennedy <ekennedyx_at_yahoo_dot_com>
Date: Mon Nov 22 2004 - 13:26:08 CST

Hello All:
First of all, Doug Jones gets a write up. Secondly, DRE makers will probably cite parts of this article as an argument for DRE's. Be prepared to negate this.
Thanks, Ed Kennedy

Touch screens reduced spoiled ballots

In November 2000, the voting precinct at Lillie C. Evans
Elementary School in Liberty City was among the worst
embarrassments in a dysfunctional presidential election:
of 868 punch-card ballots, 113 were discarded as
''overvotes'' or ''undervotes,'' the worst rate in
Miami-Dade County.

What a difference four years and $25 million for new
voting equipment make.

When 755 people voted for president this month on
In fact, there wasn't a single discarded vote.

 While certainly exemplary, the radical improvement at
Precinct 255 was not unusual. It's the new norm in
Florida voting, once the object of national ridicule.

A review of election results in a dozen Florida counties
showed that the millions of dollars spent on new voting
equipment since 2000 drastically reduced formerly
scandalous rates of spoiled ballots.
 thousands of votes on antiquated punch cards
 were lost when chads were left hanging or voters pinched
but didn't pierce ballots. Many other votes were
 discarded because voters failed to fully darken the
ovals or otherwise mismarked optical-scan ballots and
 didn't get a chance to redo them.
 In some places, discard rates reached 12 percent.

This year, discard rates were often cut to half of 1
percent or lower, in some cases as little as a quarter
percent. That's almost entirely thanks to new
technology, such as touch-screen machines that do not
allow for overvotes -- when voters choose two candidates


Take Miami-Dade, where 28,000 presidential ballots went
uncounted in 2000 because they were under- or overvoted.
With new touch screens, that dropped to 4,227, even as
 the number of ballots cast rose by 125,000. And most of
 those discarded were overvoted paper absentee ballots.
 Even more dramatic was the effect on undervotes: reduced
 from 10,750 in 2000 to 460. Now, undervotes are likely
the voters' choice not to cast a ballot in a certain
race, not the result of a system malfunction, elections
officials and experts say.

 which also replaced punch cards with
Calendar touch screens, also substantially reduced discarded
 ballots, from 14,600 in 2000 to 2,852.
 Or look at North Florida's Gadsden County, among the
 state's poorest counties. Four years ago, more than
 2,000 optical-scan ballots, or 12 percent of the total
 cast, were discarded as under- or overvotes.
 This year, only 110 ballots were spoiled.

The difference? The county spent $160,000 to equip its
25 precincts with optical-scan tabulators, into which
voters feed their ballots. If the machine finds more
than one vote in a race, or can't find any votes at all
on the ballot, the sheet is returned to the voter, who
can correct any errors.

In 2000, by contrast, the ballots were shipped to a
 central reader, and voters had no opportunity to fix
 mistakes -- a set-up now banned by law.

Another critical component, Gadsden Supervisor of
Elections Shirley Knight said, was revving up voter
education. After acquiring the precinct readers,
 Local elections workers hauled them around to schools,
supermarkets and even residents' yards for hands-on

 ''I was shocked at how much better it was than what we
 saw four years ago,'' said Kurt Browning, veteran
 elections supervisor in Pasco County, which switched
from punch cards to touch screens.

In Pasco, overvotes dropped from 2,141 in 2000 to just
136 -- all of those on paper absentee ballots -- even as
the number of ballots cast rose from nearly 147,000 to
192,000. Undervotes dropped from 1,776 to 857.

What the touch-screen systems and the precinct
optical-scan readers have done, Browning and other
elections officials said, is virtually eliminate the
 optical-scan ballots.

The changes are a direct result of the flawed 2000
presidential election, in which elections workers
conducting recounts were forced to scrutinize pregnant Partners chads on punch cards and optical-scan ballots unreadable
 by machine because voters didn't properly fill in the
 ovals or instead circled them, among other errors.
A panel created by Gov. Jeb Bush zeroed in on two major
problems: The antiquated punch cards in use in the
 state's most populated areas, including South Florida;
 and, less obviously, the 15 counties equipped with
Florida modern optical-scan systems but lacking tabulating
 machines at the polling places.
Those counties, mostly small and rural, had been unable
or unwilling to spend the money to install the precinct


(Embedded image Fifteen counties -- representing about half of Florida's
moved to file: population -- moved to touch screens. Though more
pic06907.jpg) expensive than optical scanners, touch-screens have the
advantage of making overvotes impossible and reducing or
eliminating accidental undervoting at polling places.

 Those counties also went to electronic scanners for
 absentee ballots, which remain susceptible to over- and
The other 52 of the state's counties are now equipped
photos with optical-scan machines at every precinct.
 In The Herald review, counties with optical scanners
 slightly outperformed those with touch screens.

Osceola and Duval counties, both of which switched from
punch cards to optical scanners, had discard rates
 around a quarter percent, compared to rates around a
half percent for the touch-screen counties checked.

That's likely because touch-screen systems, while
greatly improved since their introduction, still need
 refinement in ''human factors'' such as screen layouts
: that can sometimes confuse voters, said Douglas Jones, a
 computer science professor at the University of Iowa who
For teachers, has served as a consultant to the Dade Elections
students and Department.

''There are still some residual problems, but I think
they're relatively small,'' Jones said.

 Still, he noted, discard rates representing even a half
 percent of all votes mean thousands of lost votes on a
 statewide scale. ''We owe voters better than this,''
Jones said. ``On the other hand, we're doing better than
we were.''

 Voter education is one area where significant
improvement is still possible, said Pasco supervisor
Browning, noting persisting errors in absentee voting.

(The Pasco canvassing board, following routine procedure,
moved to file: counted about 2,500 absentee ballots rejected by
 scanners because they had been mismarked, but a hand
review showed clear voter intent.
''When you give someone a pen and piece of paper, you're
• Read 'The not going to get what you do on a touch screen,''
 Browning said.

But officials say the improvements should restore
confidence in voting, although some issues -- like calls
 for paper receipts for touch-screen systems -- remain
''We're not going to say everything is perfect,'' said
Seth Kaplan, a spokesman for Miami-Dade elections. ``But
we've come a long way.''

Herald staff writer Michael Vasquez contributed to this

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