Legislator ready to consider printers on voting machines
State Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, says paper is worth investigating if it satisfies skeptics.
By JEREMY WALLACE
The incoming chairman of a key committee in the Florida Legislature said he is prepared to reopen the debate about requiring paper trails for computerized voting machines.
State Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, said he saw nothing wrong with the performance of the computer machines used in 15 counties this year. But he said that as the new chairman of the House Ethics and Elections Committee, he is prepared to see if technology has improved enough to back them up with printers.
Reagan said that if a voter-verified paper printout of votes can help reassure skeptics who worry about the reliability of the new machines, then it's worth investigating.
"It's something I think we do have to revisit," said Reagan, who represents District 67, which includes parts of Hillsborough, Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Critics of the touchscreen computer voting systems say that without a verifiable paper trail for the machines, it is impossible to do a manual recount in a tight election.
Some opponents of the machines, mostly Democrats, have alleged that election results could be manipulated because there is no paper backup.
U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Delray Beach, filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year demanding that all counties have access to a manual recount. Wexler lost his case, but has appealed.
Although the 2004 election passed without any major problems reported, Wexler vows to keep pushing for the ability to have manual recounts.
"The fight isn't over," said Lale Mamaux, a spokeswoman for Wexler.
Sarasota County Democrats are also promising to keep the pressure on elections officials. Sarasota and Charlotte are among the 15 counties to use touchscreen voting. Manatee is among the 52 other counties that use optical-scan voting machines, which do produce a paper ballot that can be recounted by hand.
Harold Miller, chairman of the Sarasota County Democratic Party, said he hoped that since the 2004 election cycle has ended, elections officials will be more open to making changes now that they have four years to make the adjustments.
Sarasota Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent didn't return phone calls seeking comment. But other supervisors of elections say they are more willing to discuss adding printers now than they were in the months leading up to this year's elections.
Kay Clem, the Indian River County elections supervisor, was among those who opposed adding printers this year, fearing there wasn't enough time before the elections to train poll workers on new machines and deal with potential paper jams. But with more time to research how the printers would be used and how the paper ballots are handled, she said she is more amenable to the idea, "if it makes voters more confident." Clem is the past president of the Florida Association of Election Supervisors.
Voting machines won't be the only issue on his plate, Reagan said. Early voting will be another big topic in the coming year.
The unexpected popularity of early voting surprised many. Reagan said three-hour lines were so common that he expects changes in the law to make it easier to vote early in 2006.
Bill Cowles, the president of the Florida Association of Counties, said one of the top priorities will be to stop early voting on the Monday before Election Day. He said many supervisors of elections worked well past midnight on the Monday before the election, then had to go into Election Day with very little preparation time.
He said he also expects changes to allow more weekend voting. This year, the voting was capped at eight hours over the weekend.
Cowles, Orange County's elections supervisor, said another key will be the provision of more early voting places.
Existing state law won't allow it in non-government buildings