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Florida rejects plan to test e-voting system

BY JOE MOZINGO Miami Herald  27 August 2004

The state has rejected a proposal to test Miami-Dade County's electronic voting system during the Aug. 31 primary, dealing a blow to reformers who said testing during the election was the only way to ensure the machines count correctly.

At an election workshop this week, Miami-Dade Election Supervisor Constance Kaplan told county commissioners that she had developed a plan to conduct so-called parallel testing on five randomly ed machines. But state officials said it was too late to make such last-minute changes.

The decision prompted County Commissioner Sally Heyman to suggest the move was politically motivated by Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, who has come under fire over pre-election snafus that critics say could have disenfranchised voters.

''She is appointed by Jeb Bush,'' Heyman said in an interview. ``How independent is her thinking going to be?''

Hood could not be reached Thursday. In the past, she has denied that her decisions were political.

Kaplan said a state statute requires any amendments to the ''security procedures'' of an election be filed 45 days in advance, though the law does not mention parallel testing. Kaplan said she will file an amendment for the November general election.

Inspector General Chris Mazzella, who has been examining the county's preparedness, lamented the rejection of extra testing on the beleaguered iVotronic machines.

''I am very disappointed that the state won't allow the county to do it,'' Mazzella said. ``I think it's the only way to ensure voters have confidence in the iVotronic machines.''

The meeting Thursday was held to address any remaining concerns commissioners have over Tuesday's primary. Present were Barbara Carey-Shuler, Jimmy Morales, Dorrin Rolle, Katy Sorenson, Betty Ferguson and Heyman.

All in all, Mazzella and Cathy Jackson, the director of Audit and Management Services, gave the county high marks for ''Herculean efforts'' to rectify the problems that turned the Sept. 2002 primary the countywide premiere of the iVotronics into a fiasco.

''I am confident today we are going to have a successful election,'' Mazzella said.

Jackson's office has been tasked not only with assessing the preparations of the upcoming election, but auditing the results of past ones to ferret out any potentially unknown problems with the machines.

Her auditors looked at 31 predominantly black precincts in the 2002 primary. The American Civil Liberties Union had analyzed registration sheets in those polling places and found that 1,544 people signed in, but didn't cast a ballot.

Jackson, however, found 221 people who signed and didn't vote. One explanation for the difference in numbers: Because of difficulties starting up the iVotronics that day, many people may have signed and then left before the machines were running.

The Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, which has pushed the county to take several reform measures, has turned its focus from the IVotronic machines to the potential for fraud or disenfranchisement with absentee ballots.

With a new state law removing the requirement for a witness, the county plans to scrutinize signatures more thoroughly, and has hired a handwriting expert to help. But with more than 49,000 absentee ballots already streaming in to election headquarters, the coalition fears peoples' ballots will be wrongly rejected.

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