Florida Voting Officials Warned of Glitch Before Election

Losing candidate: Slow touch screens may have been culprit in undervote

An e-voting machine glitch that Florida officials were warned about last summer may have caused an undervote that Democrat Christine Jennings claims cost her the election in the race for the state’s 13th Congressional District seat last November.

Jennings said last week that a memo sent to state officials by manufacturer Election Systems & Software Inc. (ES&S) Aug. 15 acknowledging problems with some machines indicates that voting officials did not address known glitches prior to the Nov. 7 election.

“It’s a slap in the face to Florida voters that [state elections officials] knew about a problem with our voting machines and did not do everything within their power to fix it,” Jennings said in a statement.

Jennings is contesting the election, which she lost by 369 votes. She contends that 18,000 so-called undervotes — ballots that were cast but whose votes apparently were not recorded — were caused mostly by malfunctioning voting machines.

Shortly after the election, Jennings filed a lawsuit against the Florida Division of Elections seeking a new election.

A spokesman for Jennings said that she is currently evaluating how the memo can be used to strengthen the lawsuit, which was filed in Leon County’s Second Circuit Court in Tallahassee.

Response Problems Cited

The memo from Omaha-based ES&S said that several users had reported that iVotronic screens were “exhibiting slow response times” and that there was a delay before a candidate’s name was highlighted after voters pressed the touch screen.

The memo said that ES&S technicians studying reports of the flaw found that the response time was limited to specific iVotronic models and was caused by a “smoothing filter.”

The filter is a piece of software embedded in the iVotronic hardware that waits for a series of consistent reads from the touch screen before highlighting a candidate’s name in preparation for the vote to be cast, ES&S said.

In some cases, the time lapse was longer than a voter would normally expect, according to the memo.

Because the fix for the problem required state certification and would not be available immediately, the memo urged officials to train poll workers to expect the “slightly delayed” response times during voting in the November election.

An ES&S spokesman noted that a software upgrade was available to address the problem last August, but it was not certified by the state in time for the election. An update will be submitted for certification later this year, he said.

A spokesman for Jennings said that slow response times could have been at least partly responsible for the undercount. A number of voters complained about the response time of the machines used in Sarasota County during the election, he said.

The Florida Division of Elections, which certified the election results, claims that the glitch had no effect on the race’s outcome.

“No correlation between the delay and the undervote has been found,” said a spokesman for the agency. He said the problem only caused slow loading of some votes and delays in navigating through different screens.

ES&S maintains that the outcome of the election was not affected by screen delays.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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