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Vote scanners draw interest

As concern about the county's voting equipment continues, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas asked that the election department study the feasibility of using different machines in November.

By CHARLES RABIN Miami Herald  05 August 2004

On the same day political activists gathered at Miami-Dade County Hall to demand more oversight during elections, Mayor Alex Penelas met with county leaders to discuss studying a possible switch to optical scanning machines for the Nov. 2 election.

The county uses about 7,200 electronic voting machines called iVotronics, which have been heavily scrutinized the past few months following the discovery of a series of problems.

Penelas a Democratic candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in the Aug. 31 primary election met Wednesday with Assistant County Manager Pete Hernandez and elections chief Constance Kaplan and asked for a briefing in a week to 10 days.

The mayor said he is not committed to one machine over the other, but wants to make sure ``we haven't left any stone uncovered.''

''I'm concerned there's a strong outcry for a paper receipt,'' Penelas said. ``God forbid there's a problem, and there's not a trail.''

The iVotronics machines save records on hard drives and on discs, but don't leave a paper trail.

In an optical scanner system, already used by the county to tally absentee ballots, a ballot card filled in with a pencil is run through a scanner.

The mayor's request comes as the election department is in the midst of gathering information requested by County Commission Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler on Monday.

No study has been done on the optical scanning system, but those familiar with it believe it would cost about $8 million.

In April, the elections department said purchasing the equipment necessary to create paper receipts for the iVotronic machines would cost between $6 million and $8 million.

Carey-Shuler called for new procedures to prevent loss of data; an analysis of the audit reports from the machines; a plan to inform voters of their right to vote absentee or use a provisional ballot; and a report on the feasibility of conducting ''parallel testing'' on election day that verifies whether votes that are cast are counted.

Kaplan said the election department can accommodate the requests from both the mayor and Carey-Shuler.

''We have enough resources to handle the work and will provide the information,'' she said.

Bolstered by Carey-Shuler's request, political groups rallied outside County Hall Wednesday to urge voter turnout and demand more oversight.

One group called for the immediate return of County Manager George Burgess, who is midway through a two-week vacation.

Tangela Sears, president of the African American Grass Roots Coalition, demanded commissioners hold a special meeting even before Kaplan and Burgess are to report back to Carey-Shuler on Aug. 16.

''We're not seeking explanations,'' she said. ``We're demanding every vote be counted. The commission can not be on vacation at a time like this.''

Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, who chairs Miami-Dade's Election Reform Coalition, criticized Kaplan's skeptical response to the idea of ''parallel voting,'' which calls for an independent tester to choose a random machine, then ask a voter if he or she wishes to volunteer and test the machine.

Kaplan told The Herald Tuesday that she is concerned it might create the perception that people were being allowed to vote twice.

Said Rodriguez-Taseff, ``The response received by the supervisor regarding the testing of the machines is patronizing.''

Gatherers were also concerned with a statement Kaplan made to commissioners last week, when she said her department could have looked into audit problems, but didn't because it was not required to do so.

Adora Obi Nweze, Florida president of the NAACP, said the problems are being shared throughout the state.

''Our votes have to be counted. We need to keep our eyes on who is stealing the vote,'' she said. ``We should not shy away from what is going on in Miami-Dade.''

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