The New York Times

May 4, 2007


Florida Acts to Eliminate Touch-Screen Voting System



MIAMI, May 3 — Florida legislators voted on Thursday to replace touch-screen voting machines installed in 15 counties after the troubled 2000 presidential election here with a system of optical scan voting.


The new system is scheduled to be running in time for the 2008 presidential election.


The move is the nation’s biggest repudiation of touch-screen voting, which was embraced after the 2000 recount as a way to restore confidence that every vote would count. But the reliability of touch-screen machines has increasingly come under scrutiny, as has the difficulty of doing recounts without a paper trail.


“This legislation will preserve the integrity of Florida’s elections and protect every Floridian’s right to have his or her vote counted,” Gov. Charlie Crist said in a statement. “Florida voters will be able to have more confidence in the voting process and the reliability of Florida’s elections.”


With optical scanning, voters mark paper ballots that are counted by scanning machines, leaving a paper trail that remains available for recounts.


The 15 counties that will move to the optical scanning, which is in place in the state’s other 52 counties, account for about 51 percent of the state’s 10.4 million registered voters. They include Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Hillsborough Counties.


The plan, part of a bill that moves the state’s presidential primary to Jan. 29, was announced by Governor Crist in February. The Florida Senate voted for it last week, and the House of Representatives approved it unanimously on Thursday.


In November, more than 18,000 votes that were cast on touch-screen machines were not recorded in the close Congressional race in Sarasota County between Vern Buchanan, a Republican, and Christine Jennings, a Democrat. Mr. Buchanan was declared the winner after a recount gave him a 369-vote victory.


State officials said the shift to optical scanning was expected to cost $28 million. This week, the federal Election Assistance Commission said the state could pay the costs using money from the Help America Vote Act, which provides money to improve voting equipment.


But some critics say the switch will be more costly.


Arthur Anderson, the elections supervisor in Palm Beach County, estimated the cost to carry out the plan in his county would be $19 million.


Terry Vaughan, the supervisor of elections in Bradford County and president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, said the $28 million figure was based on the number of precincts in the state during the 2006 election, but that number has since grown.


“It will not be enough to cover the entire bill, but it will cover the basics and the bare minimum,” Mr. Vaughan said.


The legislation approved on Thursday allows for the use of touch-screen machines for voters with disabilities until 2012, when paper-ballot technology for those voters will be required.


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