Wexler pushes for optically scanned votes

Recently revealed shortcomings in electronic voting machines that Florida officials plan to use have renewed a Congressman's resolve to delay use of the machines.

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) had already filed a lawsuit seeking to force the 15 Florida counties that will use the touch-screen machines to implement a mechanism to conduct a manual recount of votes. Now he has contacted officials to urge them to use optical-scan machines in the November elections, citing a reported glitch in the audit systems of some of the machines.

Touch-screen machines, also called direct recording electronic (DRE) machines, record votes internally. Unless they are equipped with a printer and the necessary software, they do not generate a paper record that could later be hand-counted in the event of a dispute. Optical scan machines require voters to mark their choices on a card, which the machine then reads. A computer tabulates the vote, but the original paper card can serve as a record.

Wexler's latest action came in response to an article published May 15 in the Miami Herald, which reported that Election Systems & Software Inc. (ES&S) "will have to work around a glitch in the machines' auditing systems because the software that would correct it will not be certified by the state in time for the fall elections."

ES&S provides touch-screen machines used in 11 Florida counties.

A Wexler spokesperson said that Constance Kaplan, supervisor of elections in Miami-Dade County, plans to attach laptop computers to each of the 6,600 voting machines that the county will use to extract information needed for audits. Neighboring Broward County will adopt the same solution.

However, the process of extracting data to laptop computers has also not gone through Florida certification standards, the spokesperson said.

The Herald further reported that Miami-Dade officials have been aware for the problem for almost a year. The newspaper, citing Kaplan, explained that the error causes some flashcards, which download the vote totals, to scramble the serial numbers of the voting machines. It doesn't change the vote totals on election day, but the error makes it difficult or impossible to tell which machines the votes were cast on, important information for an audit.

ES&S spokesperson Meghan McCormick said the company is in discussion with Florida officials to resolve the problem. "We've given them a couple of options," she said.

She did not know whether the audit glitches affect ES&S machines in other states.

In a statement, Wexler said that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Glenda Hood "continue to ignore the obvious wake-up calls to fix our election system in Florida. It is inconceivable to me that a software problem, known for almost a year, is just now being addressed," he said. "While Florida election officials continue to ignore each and every warning, they now cannot hide from the fact that the touch-screen machines used in Miami-Dade, Broward and the nine other ES&S counties have a serious system defect that cannot be fixed before the general election. It is reckless for them to proceed as if our election system does not have problems, by continuing to tout the reliability of Florida's touch-screen voting machines."

In a letter to Hood, Wexler called on her to authorize a portion of $133 million in new federal election aid, which Florida is getting through the Help America Vote Act of 2002, to obtain the necessary optical scan machines.

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