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Palm Beach test of new voting machines works on second try


Associated Press   15 October 2004

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Election officials successfully counted every ballot cast in Palm Beach County on Friday during a postponed test of new electronic voting machines.

A computer crash forced officials to postpone the test originally scheduled for Tuesday and brought added oversight to a county infamous as the center of the presidential election dispute in 2000.

"This shows we are ready for an election in Palm Beach County," elections supervisor Theresa LePore said.

She said a power outage during the recent hurricanes was the likely cause of the computer crash. The glitch did not directly involve the new touch-screen voting machines, which replaced the punchcard ballots ridiculed for their hanging and pregnant chads in 2000. Instead, the problem involved a server that tallies the votes from the individual machines.

Critics of the ATM-like machines, which are used in 15 Florida counties, have called to add a paper trail to the electronic votes to make sure a record exists for each ballot. U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Democrat, has sued LePore and the state to require the paper receipts. A case is pending in federal court.

"You would always like the most documentation possible, but we have a system where we don't have a paper trail. And we're going to work with that system to make sure every vote is counted in this election," said attorney John Whittles, who's volunteering to monitor voting problems for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

Broward and Monroe counties were also running tests of their machines Friday. Results were not immediately available.

In the Palm Beach County test, workers fed sample votes into 2 percent of the county's 4,000 voting machines. Elections officials then compared the votes tallied by the machines with a key to make sure they had an accurate count. The tests are required by Florida law.

LePore, who lost a re-election bid and will be replaced in January, said backup systems are in place if another problem arises on Nov. 2. She said votes are stored on a cartridge in each voting machine and then are saved to a computer server and CD-ROMs.

"The question has come up, what would happen if this happens on election night?" LePore said. "And it could happen, but we would be able to recover much quicker."

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