New York Times

February 5, 2007



Good Election News From Florida


Florida, famous for doing so much wrong in its elections, is poised to take two very important right steps. First, Gov. Charlie Crist says he plans to end the use of touch-screen voting machines that do not produce a paper record. Florida’s move may finally sound the death knell for these unreliable, inherently antidemocratic voting machines.


After the 2000 election, there was a rush to eliminate the punch-card machines that produced the infamous hanging chads. But many states replaced them with paperless touch-screen machines that require voters to accept on faith that the reported vote totals accurately reflect the votes cast.


It has been hard to have faith. There have been widespread reports of “vote flipping,” in which machines record votes cast for one candidate as votes for the opponent. The Florida courts are still trying to resolve a challenge to a Congressional race last fall in which as many as 18,000 votes may have disappeared. The race was extremely close, and the possibly missing votes were in the losing candidate’s strongest county.


Governor Crist is asking the Legislature to finance the purchase of new optical-scan machines, and it is expected to agree. Choosing optical scans is Governor Crist’s second good move. In optical-scan voting, voters mark a paper ballot that is then read by a computer. Polling place lines are shorter, because many voters can fill out ballots at the same time. These paper ballots are the official ballots, and can be recounted by hand to resolve a dispute.


More than half the states — including large ones like California, New York, Illinois and Ohio — require computerized voting machines to produce a paper record. The addition of Florida would be a major defeat for election officials and voting-machine companies that have stubbornly opposed paper-trail requirements.


Governor Crist’s move should provide further momentum for a bill that Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, plans to introduce in Congress today that would require voting machines nationwide to produce voter-verified paper records.


With the Democrats in control of Congress, the bill has a good chance of passing. But it is gratifying that Florida’s shift is led by a Republican governor, and expected to pass a Republican-controlled Legislature. This has for too long been considered a Democratic issue. It shouldn’t be. It is, as Governor Crist said, “common sense.”


Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company