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Democrats: give voters choice of using electronic, paper ballots


Associated Press in the San Jose Mercury   05 August 2004

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Two Democratic lawmakers wrote to Gov. Jeb Bush Thursday asking him to order 15 counties that use touchscreen voting to give voters a choice in November between the electronic machines and those that use paper ballots.

Senate Democratic Leader Ron Klein of Boca Raton said he personally doesn't have misgivings about touchscreen machines, which are used in his county of Palm Beach, but said enough people are concerned about the lack of a reviewable paper trail in electronic voting to warrant making paper ballots optional.

"People are nervous about the touchscreen voting machines," Klein wrote to Bush in a letter also signed by House Democratic Leader Doug Wiles of St. Augustine.

Klein and Wiles said the 15 counties that use touchscreen machines already have paper-based optical scan machines available to read absentee ballots, but conceded they didn't know how much it would cost for those counties to buy additional equipment to give voters the choice of using the older technology.

"We have a rainy-day fund," Klein said. "We think there are resources available."

A Bush spokesman said the governor won't adopt the duo's proposal because he has "every faith and confidence" in both types of voting systems.

Bush and his top elections official, Secretary of State Glenda Hood, have repeatedly answered concerns about touchscreens by pointing to hundreds of elections since they were first used in 2002 that have gone off problem-free.

Bush spokesman Jacob DiPietre also said that each county is responsible for what he called "rigorous testing," including a pre-election audit. Klein said that not every machine is tested - only a sample - and suggested that wasn't enough.

Also Thursday, the liberal group People for the American Way also wrote to Bush urging that Florida voters get the same choice. The group's president, Ralph Neas, cited a recent flier supporting a Republican legislative candidate in Florida that expressed concern about the machines.

"The best way to restore voter confidence is to offer voters the choice of 'paper or plastic,' so voters who prefer paper ballots can feel more secure," Neas wrote.

Several Democrats have raised concerns about touchscreens in recent months. Earlier this week, Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, asked his county manager to determine whether the county should abandon its touchscreens in favor of paper ballots.

The idea drew a sharp response from the head of Miami-Dade's Election Reform Coalition, who said the county shouldn't spend money on a whole new system because there likely wouldn't be enough time to test the system or train poll workers on it.


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