Touch-Screen Ballots Voted Out in Florida

Governor set to sign bill making optical scan the system of choice

The Florida Legislature this month passed a bill that would require all voting districts in the state to replace most touch-screen voting systems with optical scan devices. The bill is expected to be signed within days by Gov. Charlie Crist.

The bill estimates the cost of replacing the touch-screen systems at $28.5 million.

The legislatures bill is nearly identical to legislation filed by Crist in February.

Florida may soon eliminate most touch-screen voting machines

Florida may soon eliminate most touch-screen voting machinesHowever, Crists call for a paper trail of votes cast on the few touch-screen systems that would remain in the state was rejected by lawmakers. Under the latest proposed law, touch-screen systems would be used only by handicapped voters and would not require a paper trail, officials said.

After the May 3 vote in the Florida House of Representatives, Crist said in a statement that Florida voters will be able to have more confidence in the voting process and the reliability of Floridas elections.

The vote came a day after the U.S. Election Assistance Commissions ruling that up to $29.7 million in federal funds can be used to replace Floridas touch-screen systems.

A Matter of Trust

Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning had requested that the EAC let the state use federal Help America Vote Act funds to replace the systems.

In an appearance before the EAC on May 1, Browning said, There is a perception across the state that indicates many voters do not trust electronic voting machines and want to cast a paper ballot. This perception has become reality in large part, and we want to address those concerns.

Critics of touch-screen voting systems applauded the Florida legislation.

This is fantastic, said Avi Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a Maryland elections judge.

Rubin said Maryland lawmakers have passed a similar law that will take effect in 2010.

Im thrilled with the direction these states are going, he said. Its great that awareness that the risks of direct-recording electronics [touch-screen machines] have grown to the point where legislators understand the issues.

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

Brad Friedman, a co-founder of the voter activist group Velvet Revolution and a critic of touch-screen machines, predicted that such systems will be banned nationwide sooner or later. Friedman called on Congress to enact legislation similar to Floridas.

Voting machine makers said they expect to continue working with Florida election officials.

Purchasing decisions are always up to our customers, said a spokesman for Omaha-based Election Systems and Software Inc., which makes touch-screen and optical scan machines. We look forward to working with Florida customers well into the future.

The spokesman contended that the companys touch-screen systems perform accurately and reliably.

A spokesman for Diebold Election Systems in Allen, Texas, said that use of the companys touch-screen systems in Florida is limited.

A spokesman for Crist said he expects the governor will sign the bill within a week.

Once the bill is signed, the Florida Division of Elections will meet with the states 67 county elections supervisors to devise a plan for replacing the machines, said a spokesman for Browning.

The officials will decide how many touch-screen systems need to be disposed of and the balance owed to manufacturers for those machines, he said.

A funding plan is expected to be completed by the end of July, Crists spokesman said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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