Tech trails in election report

Better election procedures are more important to election reform than are

new, high-tech voting machines, a task force of election officials said

in a report to Congress.

"Only a small percentage of the problems [in the November 2000 election]

were directly related to any failure by vote tally devices themselves,"

the National Task Force on Election Reform said in a report released Aug.

9. "The problems were created by people, not machines."

That finding by 37 state and local election officials serves as counterpoint

to the post-election scramble by vendors, researchers and politicians to

promote new voting technology. Voting machines that feature optical scanners,

touch screens and vote transmission over the Internet have been touted as

solutions to election woes.

Tallying the results of last fall's presidential election dragged on

for 36 days while ballots in Florida were recounted and recounts were challenged

in court. Punch-card voting machines were blamed for failing to accurately

count tens of thousands of votes, while poorly designed ballots were faulted

for confusing thousands of voters.

Within weeks after the election was settled, members of Congress introduced

a series of bills that could make hundreds of millions of dollars available

to states and localities to buy new voting machines.

It would cost $3.5 billion or more to replace all of the nation's old-technology

voting machines, said Doug Lewis, director of The Election Center, which

sponsored the task force. But the machines are not the most serious problem,

he said.

Most of the trouble in Florida stemmed from inconsistent standards and

vague procedures, he said. The state lacked clear standards on what constituted

a vote — hence the disputes over dimpled and hanging chads. And there were

no clear rules on how recounts should be conducted.

"Solve those two problems," and the election in Florida might have been

uneventful, Lewis said.

News coverage of the Florida recounts convinced most Americans that

punch-card voting machines were responsible for the election problems and

that replacing the machines will prevent recurrence, the task force said.

But one task force member, Ron Chaney, chairman of the Henrico County,

Va., Electoral Board, said his jurisdiction used punch-card machines with

no problems.

"It's not the technology," Lewis said. "The technology is a piece of

it, but not the most important piece."

Developing clearer election policies and procedures, providing better

training for poll workers, designing ballots to minimize voter confusion

and establishing statewide registries of voters are among the steps the

task force recommends.

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