Florida finds lost vote data

Election officials in Florida's Miami-Dade County have found the election data previously thought was lost.

The data was recovered this morning, said Seth Kaplan, executive assistant to the supervisor of elections for the county. It had been burned onto a CD and tucked away, he said.

Elections officials had earlier believed that the data had been lost in a pair of system crashes in 2003. A citizen's group trying to investigate anomalous vote totals recorded on touch-screen voting machines had requested the data.

The information included votes in the 2002 gubernatorial primary election and other elections in the county. An American Civil Liberties Union study of 31 voting precincts found that more voters signed into the polls than voted, and that an average of about 8.5 percent of the voters had no votes recorded.

The citizen's group, called the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, planned to use the stored data, which would include electronic images of every ballot cast and the summary results that the machine produced. That would show, for example, if votes had been cast and recorded but somehow not counted in the totals.

Sometimes voters go to the polls and do not vote, said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, and a strong supporter of electronic voting. However, the ACLU survey revealed that in the 2000 elections, such undervotes occurred at a rate of about 4.4 percent using punch card ballots, half of the average rate for 2002 voters using the touch-screen machines.

Skeptics of e-voting have advocated measures that would increase election officials' ability to conduct audits after an election. The most common proposal is to require the machines to generate a receipt that voters verify. Should a challenge arise, or if officials simply want to audit the accuracy of the machines, they could count the paper receipts by hand and compare the results to the machine-generated totals.

Without actual paper receipts, the electronic images are the only record of individual votes, said Martha Mahoney, a law professor at the University of Miami School of Law and a member of the coalition.

Kaplan said county officials had implemented a backup system last year to prevent further losses.

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