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Council kills ballot machines
News Journal Online. June 7, 2005. By James Miller, staff writer

DELAND County Council members didn't need a recount Monday, but they figured one day voters might.

At a special meeting, the council narrowly killed a contract that would have brought touch-screen voting machines to Volusia.

Intended to meet a state deadline for disabled-accessible voting, the touch screens vexed voters who want something the machines don't produce a paper ballot. But in trying to keep a lock on the ballot box, the council may have opened itself to a conflict with the state and disabled advocacy groups.

"I have to live with my conscience, and I feel I did the right thing," said County Chairman Frank Bruno, one of four council members to vote against the $782,185 contract with Diebold Election Systems.

Supervisor of Elections Ann McFall wanted to buy 210 machines to meet a state deadline to have disabled accessible systems for the first election after July 1. So far, only touch-screen systems, which use an "audio ballot" with headphones, meet federal and state guidelines for disabled accessibility.

"We're operating with a gun to our heads, and I don't appreciate that," said Bruno, who hopes some other type of equipment will be approved before a federal deadline of Jan. 1. "It's a clear message to the state to tell them they need to revisit it, and, hopefully, match (the state deadline) to the federal deadline."

Volusia's next step is unclear. County Attorney Dan Eckert said he would advise the council of its options at its June 16 meeting.

McFall, however, said the council's decision jeopardizes municipal elections in the fall, which must be certified by the state.

"I don't know if the council really heard that, but when the mayors and city clerks start calling, maybe they'll start to understand," McFall said.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Glenda Hood said it was too early to speculate on the state's course of action. Spokeswoman Jenny Nash said officials hope the situation can be worked out locally. The county's biggest concern, she said, might be lawsuits from disabled advocacy groups something a leading official with a national group confirmed Monday afternoon.

"It's a very ill-advised thing for the county to do," said Jim Dickson, vice president of governmental affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based American Association of People with Disabilities. "Let me put it this way. It requires an action of our board to file suit and our board doesn't even know about this. On the other hand, every time the question has come up the board has said yes."

Locally, the advocacy group Handicapped Adults of Volusia County opposed the touch screens.While Bruno and Councilman Carl Persis had previously voted against negotiating a contract with Diebold Election Systems, two councilmen Dwight Lewis and Art Giles changed course after earlier endorsing contract negotiations.

One of the council's concerns was McFall's possible plan to use the touch screens for early voting not just as alternative for disabled voters. The early voting site must accommodate voters from anywhere in the county, meaning each site would have to have hundreds of different paper ballot styles probably more than one early voting site can even store, McFall said.

The idea played into some critics' fear that the touch screens ultimately would replace the paper ballots.

Giles said he became increasingly concerned after reading about various problems with electronic voting, including one that led to a recent proposal in Miami-Dade County to replace the county's touch screens with optical scan systems. The county would keep some touch screens for voters with disabilities.

Battles over touch-screen voting systems are increasingly commonplace, said Dan Seligson editor of electionline.org, a nonpartisan, non-advocacy clearinghouse for information about election reform. According to electionline.org, 15 states had laws on the books as of May requiring a "voter verifiable paper trail." Another 21 had pending legislation.

"The message that these machines might be untrustworthy is beginning to resonate with voters all over the country," he said. "Whether or not that's true, it's beginning to resonate."


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