Election officials push reform

The voting problems exposed in Florida during the November election emphasizedthe need for new voting technology and national election standards, stateofficials told a Senate committee Wednesday.

In some counties across the nation, as much as 15 percent of the votescast were not counted because of troublesome voting machines. In others,voters were turned away from polling places because voter registration rollswere inaccurate or inaccessible, and poll workers were poorly trained.

And in many locations, voting machines are decades old, and the technologydates back more than a century, a panel of secretaries of state told theSenate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

There is a technology solution to the problem, Georgia Secretary ofState Cathy Cox said. New electronic voting machines have proven to be easyto use, highly accurate and virtually foolproof, she said. But they arealso more expensive than many localities can afford.

A central voter registration database, for example, is essential forOregon to keep accurate track of voter data now stored in 36 separate databases,said Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. But such centralization wouldcost $6 million — a price the state can't afford without diverting moneyfrom education and health care, he said.

Nationwide, it would take about $3 billion to replace faulty votingmachines, such as those that rely upon optical scanners, punch cards andlevers.

Following the Florida election fiasco, a state task force endorsed opticalscanners as the technology of choice for the 2002 election. However, a studyby Cox of Georgia election results revealed optical scanners in that statesometimes had error rates as high or higher than punch card voting machines.

Overall, 94,000 votes in Georgia were rejected by voting machines. Thatamounts to 3.5 percent of the state's votes — a higher error rate than the2.9 percent in Florida and the 1.9 percent nationwide.

"I'm shocked to learn that the optical scanner is not a plus; it's aminus," said Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) "The real question is how we can usetechnology to improve" the voting system.

A number of election reform bills have been introduced in the Senateand House, including some that would provide money to states and localitiesto buy new election equipment.

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