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Manual recounts may be impossible here

Jack Gurney  Pelican Press  06 October 2004

A spokesman for Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood has suggested that Sarasota County and 15 others simply may not be able to conduct manual recounts of contested Nov. 2 general election races with their paperless touch-screen voting machines.

"No vendor currently has the capability to develop a piece of equipment, or companion equipment, that can produce a receipt," Jenny Nash told the Pelican Press earlier this week. "When they do, it will be submitted for certification."

On Sept. 26, Hood let a deadline pass when she failed to appeal Administrative Law Judge Susan Kirkland's ruling that Sarasota County and the 15 others must be capable of conducting manual recounts with their paperless touch-screen equipment.

Florida's elections law automatically requires a manual recount when the margin of victory in a political race or referendum ballot question is one-quarter of a percent or less, or when there is a proper and timely request for a manual recount.

"We are still in the process of formulating a solution to the problem," Nash said, "but we haven't completed that process. I can't give you a specific time when the process will be completed, but it will be in a timely manner. I just don't know when."

New rule in the works

On Aug. 27, Kirkland struck down a provision ed into the state's election laws last spring that exempted the 16 counties from conducting manual recounts. The ruling put Hood and Florida's Division of Elections on the spot to identify a solution.

"I've talked with Sara Jane Bradshaw, the assistant director of the Division of Elections, and asked if there will be a new rule," Sarasota County Elections Supervisor Kathy Dent said. "I've been assured they are working on a new rule."

Dent has also talked with representatives for Elections Systems and Software (ES&S), the company that produced 1,615 paperless touch-screen voting machines Sarasota County purchased for $4.7 million in 2001. They came without individual printers.

"I was told that ES&S has a prototype a machine with a printer that is not in production," Dent said. "The company has not approached the state for certification. We have one printer at each precinct that can produce totals, but we can't print individual ballot receipts."

Any solution Hood, the state's top elections official, and Florida Division of Elections Director Don Roberts devise may have to address a federal lawsuit recently revived by an Atlanta appeals court. Filed by U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, it charges that paperless touch-screen voters would be denied due process in the event a recount is required.

On Sept. 14, Nevada successfully conducted a primary election with Sequoia touch-screen machines attached to new printers. The state spent about $800 each to retrofit 2,600 touch-screen voting machines in 16 counties so it could conduct manual recounts.

Sarasota County's decision to buy ES&S equipment was clouded by the fact that the former secretary of state, Sandra Mortham, was employed as a lobbyist for both the Florida League of Cities and ES&S. She received a commission on the sale of touch-screen machines.

Four organizations challenged the state law that previously exempted Sarasota County and 15 others from conducting manual recounts. They included the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause, the Florida Voters League and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

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