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Address Flaws So System Works

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board 
There's plenty to second-guess about touch-screen voting machines. But wringing hands and lamenting past decisions won't change the reality staring starkly at voters and election supervisors: What we've got is what we've got, so let's make it work as well as possible.

The latest blow to confidence in the touch-screen machines is a South Florida Sun-Sentinel survey showing votes were not recorded for about one out of every 100 Florida voters in the March 9 Democratic presidential primary. That ratio was significantly higher than the number of "flawed" votes cast in the same election by voters who used a different method, in which pencil marks on paper ballots were recorded by optical scanners.

These "undervotes" raise again fears that votes are going uncounted, disenfranchising voters and distorting results. The analysis is fodder for critics and skeptics who believe Florida is headed for another 2000-style election debacle. Anxiety about the election is understandable, but conspiracy theories suggesting a Republican plot to "steal" it are ridiculous.

The scrutiny of the voting systems themselves isn't bad if it keeps elections officials, the public and the candidates on guard. But with the Aug. 31 primary looming and the critical November presidential election not far behind, it's best to put aside the 20/20 hindsight and instead seek ways to mitigate possible flaws in the system. Especially since the knee-jerk assumption that undervotes equal disenfranchisement may be as faulty as the allegedly faulty touch-screen system.

Undervotes may not signal a malfunction, but rather an intentional decision by voters to skip particular ballot items like judgeships, obscure municipal issues and even high-profile races. They do so because either they don't know the candidates or the issues, or they simply don't like their choices. It is, for many people, a way to protest their options.

Still, it's worth taking proactive steps to defuse undervote concerns, such as:

Election supervisors must continue efforts to inform voters about operating the voting machines while they wait in line at polling places. That could reduce confusion contributing to undervotes.

People uneasy with touch-screen machines might consider voting a day or two earlier, when they can take time to be more careful.

Candidates, parties and the media should double efforts to inform the electorate, which could reduce undervote totals as voters make more informed choices.

Florida officials can rethink their voting systems after the election. Now is not the time for that.

We're stuck with the touch-screens. The responsible and productive course is to identify weaknesses and then mitigate them.

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