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Miami-Dade County hires Iowa expert as election consultant

Associated Press

DAVENPORT, Iowa - A University of Iowa professor whose nickname is "the Yoda of voting" has been hired as a consultant by one Florida county hoping to avoid another presidential election debacle this November.

Douglas W. Jones, an assistant professor of computer science, has emerged in recent years as a national expert on computer election systems and security. To that end, election officials in south Florida's Miami-Dade County asked for his help as they work to implement a controversial, $25 million touch-screen, paperless voting system.

Ironically, Jones is a harsh critic of touch-screen voting - which, he says, is the main reason Miami-Dade officials hired him.

"I want voting systems that you can audit with the same rigor as the books of a corporation," Jones said. "I want my vote counted as accurately as I want my bank to count my dollars, with the same quality."

Jones has served for 10 years on the Iowa Board of Examiners for Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems, and has done pro bono work for groups like the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, which advocates for minority voting rights.

Since 2000, Jones' work has become less academic and he's emerged as a vocal proponent of secure election equipment that can be audited. That's his main problem with the touch-screen system, which lack any sort of paper trail.

Seth Kaplan, executive assistant to the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections, said the county wanted Jones' perspective. Miami-Dade, along with Broward and Palm Beach counties, were ground zero for the vote count problems that delayed the result of the presidential election by more than a year in 2000.

"We've done extensive work within our organization to come up with the best process possible, but it's healthy to have an outside perspective as well," he said.

Jones has issued a number of recommendations to the county, some of which have been followed. The three counties recently ran advance tests that he recommended on 418 voting machines in anticipation of a primary election, tests that were themselves the subject of controversy.

Jones said it was better than doing nothing, and noted that no matter what Florida officials do, the results are likely to displease some. He said he's pleased that the number of election observers has been significantly increased.

"There's a possibility that we will see a more accurate, and yet controversial, review," he said.

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