FL legislature contends with problems with e-voting machines

As lawsuits over unusual undercount proliferate, politicians under pressure to make the changes that will restore voter confidence.

When the Florida Legislature convenes in March, the future of electronic voting machines will be one of the top items of business. While much of the country is registering fears about the ways votes are handled with the machines, Florida once again is in the limelight with an ongoing controversy over a Congressional election in Sarasota County where 18,000 voters using e-voting machines apparently didn't bother to vote in the hotly contested election.

That limelight puts the pressure on politicians to make 2008 controversy-free for the state, The Associated Press reports.

''If this issue is not dealt with expediently, we will be faced with another possible blemish on Florida's already jaded voting history with the 2008 presidential election on the horizon,'' said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

In the heart of the controversy, Sarasota County, voters have already opted to junk their e-voting machines and switch back to paper - ironically in the same election that caused the problems.

In the county, about 13 percent of those who voted appeared to ignore the congressional race between Democrat Christine Jennings and Republican Vern Buchanan. Experts say that's an extremely high ``undervote.''

So far, a state investigation has found no evidence of problems with the machines, despite allegations from Jennings in a lawsuit that they lost thousands of votes. The probe continues, however. Most recently, state officials pulled computer chips from a random sample of the county's machines to analyze their programming source code.

The contest - between Democrat Christine Jennings and Republican Vern Buchanan - is increasingly mired in legal and political challenges.

People for the American Way Foundation has launched an investigation into the Jennings-Buchanan race and is involved in a lawsuit that seeks to compel the touch-screen maker to open up its software programming secrets to more scrutiny. The company, Elections Systems & Software, says its machines worked properly and is fighting to keep the code from the public.

Officials are considering such changes as forcing the machines to create a paper ballot that would be counted by other means, such as optical scan. Foundation lawyer Reggie Mitchell said the case is also partly aimed at shedding light on the problem so policymakers might make a change.

Among the options would be to require touch-screen makers to create a paper ballot. Or the state could junk electronic machines for paper ballots counted by optical scanners. Disabled groups favor electronic machines, however, because the displays are easier to see than the bubles on paper ballots and can include audio assitance.


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