Florida gets money for e-voting hardware swap

Feds OK use of money for optical scan e-voting hardware

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) will allow the state of Florida to use millions of dollars in federal funds to swap out its touch-screen voting systems for new optical scan devices.

The EAC is tasked with helping states implement the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Earlier this week, the EAC ruled in favor of Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning, who had sought to use HAVA funds for the voting system swap. HAVA was passed by Congress in 2002, in part with the goal of replacing manual level or punch card voting systems with electronic ones. It also dictated that every voting precinct have one specially equipped e-voting machine that would allow blind voters to cast their ballots unaided.

Subsequently, many states such as Florida relied heavily on touch-screen systems to satisfy the HAVA requirements.

However, critics have charged repeatedly that Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) devices are unreliable, can be easily hacked and don't give voters the transparency they need to verify that their votes are being recorded correctly. To address those concerns, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist in February submitted a bill that would provide $32 million to replace the DREs with hardware that has a paper trail for voters to review their votes. That bill passed the state senate and was sent to the state House, which approved it today and sent it to Crist for his signature.

Funding for any switch to new e-voting hardware had been an issue. As a result, Browning appeared before EAC board members to explain the state's legislation. He stressed that "there is a perception across the state that indicates many voters do not trust electronic voting machines and want to cast a paper ballot," according to a copy of his testimony supplied by his office. "For Florida, this perception has become reality in large part and we want to address those concerns."

Browning had noted that Crist's legislation "moves 100% of all ballots cast in Florida out to paper, while also improving our ability to administer federal elections."

Crist's plan allows a single DRE system to remain in every election precinct to enable blind voters to cast their ballots. However, these systems could also be equipped with printers to provide a voter verifiable paper audit record (VVPAT), which could be used for canvassing or for recount purposes. Browning asked the EAC to allow HAVA funds to be used to pay for some of Crist's proposals.

The EAC ruled yesterday that it would allow as much as $29.7 million to be used to implement the legislation.

A spokesman for Browning said the secretary of state is "very pleased" with the EAC decision. Even so, the measure approved today by the Florida House did not contain language providing for the outfitting of the handicapped-accessible DREs with printers.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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