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Fla. governor opts for e-voting systems with paper trail

Crist wants to spend $32.5M to replace most touch-screen systems in the state

By Todd R. Weiss
February 1, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - In a bid to make his state's elections more accurate, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, today unveiled plans to spend $32.5 million to replace touch-screen e-voting machines used by most voters across the state with optical-scanning equipment that prints out paper records of a voter's choices.

The recommendation comes as the governor prepares to release his state budget proposal tomorrow, according to his office. The Crist plan would reportedly cover the entire cost of replacing the machines, meaning local governments wouldn't have to pay for the replacements. The only touch-screen machines that won't be replaced are those that include provisions for audio features needed by visually impaired voters. Those machines -- one in each polling place -- will be upgraded to include paper-record capabilities.

"My recommended budget would allow a verifiable paper trail of Florida's voting system, without placing a financial burden on county taxpayers," Crist said in a statement. "Our goal is to increase voter confidence and ensure Floridians have confidence in the voting process."

Crist made the announcement today at a meeting of the Voters Coalition in Delray Beach, Fla., along with U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., and other officials. The initiative had been confirmed yesterday by a Wexler aide.

"Through this proposal, every Floridian will be able to go to the polls with total confidence that their vote will be counted on Election Day," Wexler said in a statement. "Thanks to the leadership of Governor Crist, Florida now leads the way in election integrity -- with the guarantee of a paper trail for all votes cast." The touch-screen hardware has been sharply criticized because it does not offer a way to see what votes were cast for candidates in the event of a system disruption. Critics have argued that the equipment is not accurate enough to use without a paper record of the votes cast. Not all touch-screen machines include paper records.

The new machines use a paper ballot filled out by a voter, then run through an optical scanner that tallies the votes. The paper ballot is retained for record keeping in the event of a recount or other procedures. Crist's proposal also includes funding to add the paper record capabilities to those machines in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the governor's office.

Election disputes have been headline news in the state for several years. In November, the losing candidate in a disputed Florida congressional election filed a lawsuit contending that glitches in e-voting machines in Sarasota County were the main reason for some 18,000 allegedly undercounted, or missing, votes there in the Nov. 7, 2006, election.

The state's much-publicized vote-counting problems surfaced during the contentious 2000 presidential election that saw Republican George W. Bush win the state -- and the presidency -- over Democrat Al Gore after the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and stopped a recount of votes in Florida.

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