Sarasota, FL, junks e-voting machines

Voters pass amendments requiring a switch back to paper ballots. Loss of 18,000 votes said not to be a factor in decision.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

Things went so swimmingly on election day in Sarasota County, FL, that the county will abandon touch-screen voting in 2008 and return to paper ballots, the Orland Sentinel reports.

The e-voting machines may have lost some 18,000 votes in a hotly contested congressional race. That was the number of cast ballots that didn't include to a vote in the House election. Since Democrat Christine Jennings is losing by only 400 votes, even a small percentage of the missing votes could change the outcome.

But the disputed election is not the main reason Sarasota is scrapping the new system, Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent said Tuesday. Dent said she is simply listening to voters and following a charter amendment Nov. 7 in which they demanded "verified paper ballots."

For that reason, she said, the county would switch to optical-scan machines. Unlike the paperless touch-screen system in place now, the optical-scan system allows voters to mark paper ballots with pencil or pen as if they were taking a multiple-choice test. After filling in their choices, voters then feed the ballots into a machine.

A planned audit of the contested election will be delayed until the candidates can bring their own experts to the county to monitor the investigation. Meanwhile, the machine recount shifted things very slightly, giving Republicn Buchanan one more vote and taking three away from Jennings. A manual recount starts on Thursday.

The choice to junk the machines comes from an amendment voters passed on Nov. 7 that imposes strict guidelines on the election system -- making it virtually impossible, Dent said, to retain touch-screen machines under the new technical and legal restrictions. That's because Florida, unlike other states, has not approved touch-screen machines that leave a verifiable paper trail.

"I would have preferred not to implement a new system, but the voters have made their choice," said Dent, who estimated the optical-scan operation would cost about $3.6 million.
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