Florida to dump touch-screen e-voting systems

Legislature passes bill to swap in optical-scan hardware

In a major shift on e-voting that could ripple to other states, the Florida Legislature today voted to replace nearly all of the state's touch-screen voting systems with optical scan devices.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who initially offered up the bill mandating a change in e-voting systems earlier this year, applauded the Florida Legislature for acting after the state House approved the measure. It had already been OK'd by the state Senate.

The law mandates the replacement of touch-screen systems with optical scan devices and also moves up the date of Florida's presidential primary to the last Tuesday in January. In 2008, that would be Jan. 29.

Touch-screen systems have come under criticism for being unreliable, easily hacked and lacking the transparency voters need to trust that their votes are actually being counted. To address those concerns, Crist offered a bill that would replace the systems in 17 Florida counties with optical scan devices, which require filling out a paper ballot that can later be used for canvassing or recount.

"The right to vote is the foundation of our nation's democracy, and Florida voters can rest assured that they will have an election system they can believe in," Crist said. "This legislation will preserve the integrity of Florida's elections and protect every Floridian's right to have his or her vote counted. Florida voters will be able to have more confidence in the voting process and the reliability of Florida's elections."

He also noted that the law "will establish a paper trail for votes cast in Florida elections."

Earlier this week, the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) ruled that money appropriated by Congress through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 can be used to replace Florida's touch-screen systems. Some handicapped-enabled touch screens will remain in Florida to comply with HAVA, which dictates that each election precinct have one e-voting device that allows a blind voter to cast a ballot unaided.

The law comes as welcome news to the opponents of touch-screen systems.

"I think this is fantastic," said Avi Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University and a Maryland elections judge. A high-profile author and critic of touch-screen systems, he noted that Maryland has passed a similar law, although it won't take effect until 2010. "I'm thrilled with the direction these states are going," he said. "It's great that awareness of the risks of Direct Recording Electronics has grown to the point where legislators understand the issues.

"I think we had some rough going for a few elections but that switching to paper ballots and optical scans sets us back on course," Rubin said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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