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Wexler reminds elections chief of paper trail challenge

By George Bennett

Palm Beach Post Monday, January 10, 2005

Less than 48 hours after Arthur Anderson took over as Palm Beach County elections supervisor, Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler gave him a pointed public reminder of who and what got him elected.

"Arthur, we are going to have a paper trail, right?" Wexler, D-Delray Beach, asked Anderson in front of about 400 people at a Democratic rally west of Delray Beach on Wednesday night.
 Wexler's tone was jocular. But the underlying message was as serious as a manual recount.

After spending much of 2004 pursuing litigation against paperless voting and being the most prominent backer of paper-trail advocate Anderson's campaign for elections chief, Wexler in 2005 is not about to let the issue fade away.

On Thursday morning, Wexler told a group of west Delray Beach retirees that Anderson can expect "ramifications" if he doesn't see to it that the county's voting machines include a tangible, voter-verified record of how ballots are cast.

Anderson says he remains supportive of adding paper records to supplement or replace the county's touch-screen voting system. But during the past two months, Anderson has raised questions about ballot printers and said implementing a paper trail could take time.

He also says it's possible some technological innovation might emerge with "more credibility" than paper records.

"What's the state of the art today might not be the state of the art tomorrow," Anderson said last week.

Anderson didn't mention the paper trail in brief remarks at his swearing-in last Tuesday. Asked about it afterward, Anderson said, "I continue to support the notion that we do need to add a paper ballot trail."

But he said he will take a "wait-see" approach before deciding on the best solution.

A major part of Anderson's successful campaign against incumbent Theresa LePore was his call for adding ballot printers to existing touch-screen machines.

A voter would verify the paper printout before casting a ballot electronically, and the paper record would be deposited in a secure box in case it was needed for a recount. Voting equipment vendors have been developing such systems, but none has been certified for use in Florida.

During the past two months, Anderson has raised questions about printer paper jams and the security issues associated with having poll workers open up machines to fix them on election day. He also has said a rogue programmer could rig machines to tabulate votes differently from the way they appear on paper records.

"The paper ballot trail does not answer with finality the ultimate question, which is: Is the machine truly recording voter intent?" Anderson said.

Since November, he also has floated the idea of scrapping the county's touch screens, which county commissioners purchased for $14 million in 2002, and switching to a system of paper ballots read by optical scanners. Wexler also has moved from advocating printers to favoring optical-scan ballots.

"I'm not throwing any options off the table," Anderson said.

Anderson plans to appoint a technology advisory committee to study the issue and make recommendations.

At the United South County Democratic Club meeting that Anderson attended Wednesday, Wexler said he is confident the county will end up with a paper trail "after (Anderson) analyzes, after he studies, after he takes his time, after he does everything he needs to do."

The next morning at the Coral Lakes community west of Delray Beach, Wexler spoke to about 160 constituents. After talking about Federal Emergency Management Agency relief for hurricane damage, Wexler got on the subject of the paper trail and became more animated.

Wexler told the group he is confident the county's voting system will end up with a paper trail, but it might take as long as two years to get it.

A woman in the audience told Wexler that voters "are going to hold (Anderson's) feet to that. We want that done."

Wexler agreed.

"If he doesn't, there will be ramifications," Wexler said. "We'll all be watching."

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