Touch-Screen Problems in Florida

Jeb is still insisting ‘there’s no problem’ with the voting machines in Florida, but a report by the Florida Division of Elections says otherwise.

The Florida Division of Elections’ report found that the rate of so-called undervotes, or blank or incomplete ballots, in the 2002 gubernatorial election was nearly three times higher in counties using touch-screen machines as in those with optical scan systems.In the election, which incumbent Republican Gov. Jeb Bush won by a wide majority, more than 44,000 votes were ruled invalid because of undervotes, overvotes (when a voter chooses more than one candidate) or flawed absentee ballots, the report said.

The document, the basis for an article in Thursday’s editions of the Miami Herald, was seized upon by critics of the screens, which Florida’s most populous counties have purchased to prevent a repeat of the election debacle of 2000. The report attracted little notice when it was issued last year.

Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way Foundation, a voters’ rights group, wrote Bush to suggest that residents of the 15 counties with the touch screens, which are akin to bank ATM terminals, be given the option of casting paper ballots in the upcoming presidential election.

“This would send a signal that election officials are willing to go the extra mile to let voters use technology they trust, even if it’s just a pencil and a piece of paper,” Neas said from Washington. Neas’ group has joined with the American Civil Liberties Union in suing Florida to force the state to install backup systems on the touch-screen terminals so a paper trail would be generated for use in any recount.

The Division of Elections and Bush’s office did not return calls for comment Thursday. But the agency, in a statement issued July 27, maintained that because of new hardware and voter education, Florida’s undervote rate was at its lowest level ever. An undervote is not a lost vote or error, it said, but occurs when citizens exercise their right to withhold their vote.

However, the day before the article on the report was published, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, a Democrat, asked the county manager whether their jurisdiction should shift from touch-screen machines to paper ballots and optical scanners for the Nov. 2 election.

Last week, election workers in Miami said computer crashes had led to the loss of 2002 election data for the county, yet more proof of the touch-screen system’s unreliability, according to its critics. The computerized records were later found. (emphasis added)

Jeb has stubbornly refused to provide a paper-trail for Florida voters, claiming at various times that all the problems with touch screens have been fixed (they haven’t), that adding printers to them is too expensive (it isn’t), or that there just isn’t time before the election (there’s more than enough). As each of these excuses has been shot down, Jeb has become more rather than less adamant on the subject, insisting again and again that nothing needs to be done, yet–

Bush’s own party, in a flier sent to voters in July, has expressed wariness about the touch screens, advising Republicans in South Florida: “Make sure your vote counts. Order your absentee ballot today.”

We trust the Florida Democrats are doing likewise?

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