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State won't penalize Volusia for rejecting touch-screens
Orlando Sentinel. 08 June 2005. By Kevin P. Connolly, Sentinel Staff Writer

DELAND The Volusia County Council's surprise rejection this week of touch-screen voting machines for disabled people has prompted anger, praise and curiosity, but County Chairman Frank Bruno was breathing a little easier after talking to state officials late Tuesday.

Bruno learned the state was not planning any sanctions against County Council members for voting down a contract Monday with Diebold Elections Systems to get disability-accessible voting machines for elections after July 1.

But Bruno said the official reminded him about something he already knew: Monday's vote could open the door for a lawsuit from a disability-rights group if the county does not come into compliance before the next elections, which are Oct. 11 and Nov. 8.

And an official with a national disability group based in Washington, D.C., said the County Council's vote against touch-screens put Volusia on his radar screen.

"It's wrong, and the county will be hearing from us," said Jim Dickson, vice president of government affairs for the American Association for People with Disabilities, an advocacy group that filed suit several years ago against Duval County for disabled voting access.

Touch-screen machines are sparking controversy because they do not produce paper ballots, and voting activists in Volusia and elsewhere are raising concerns about paperless voting being vulnerable to hackers and glitches. Activists also want paper ballots for recounts.

Bruno said he feels more comfortable after talking with state officials and a private vendor Tuesday about new devices that might get approved for use in Florida. The devices could satisfy concerns of disabled people who want to vote independently, and touch-screen critics demanding a so-called "voter-verifiable paper trail."

Meanwhile, Volusia Elections Supervisor Ann McFall's predicament caught the attention of other elections chiefs Tuesday during a Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections conference at Saddlebrook Resort, about 30 miles north of Tampa.

McFall said other supervisors were "very sympathetic and empathetic," but they didn't face similar problems in their home counties.

"They don't see it as a big issue. They're going to touch-screens. It's no big deal," McFall said. "I couldn't explain the rationale [behind the County Council's vote] because I still don't understand it."

All of the ramifications of the vote also are not fully understood because Volusia is charting new territory as what is thought to be the first county in Florida to openly rebel against the new regulations because county officials are worried about paperless voting.

One possible outcome if the county does not comply, McFall said, is that she will not be able to use her equipment during the next elections. McFall said she hopes to get more guidance from state officials when they are scheduled to meet Thursday at Saddlebrook Resort.

Bruno is optimistic Volusia will find a solution.

"All I'm trying to do is provide for the disabled as well as the total community and keep everybody comfortable," he said.

The chairman said he was encouraged about new options for Volusia after getting an unsolicited call Tuesday from a representative for AutoMARK, a ballot-marking device with touch-screen interface designed to allow disabled voters to cast ballots independently while creating a "paper trail" the ballots.

Although the devices are not certified for use in Florida, the representative told Bruno they could be ready for key tests by the first week in July.

"I said, 'If you can do it in June, it would make it better for me,' " Bruno said. "So I'm not wasting any time. I'm not in violation right now. We're not going to be in violation" if Volusia gets a certified system in place before the next elections.

Jenny Nash, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Elections, said AutoMARK officials submitted an incomplete application for certification, and it is up to the vendor to supply the necessary information to move forward.

She said earlier this week that it is risky for counties to wait and take the chance an uncertified device will get approved for use in Florida before their next election. There is no specific timeline for certification process to be completed, she said.

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