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Miami-Dade's elections chief urges new system

By Chrystian Tejedor and Ihosvani Rodriguez    South Florida Sun-Sentinel May 28 2005

After repeated embarrassing glitches at the polls, elections officials in Miami-Dade County have recommended scrapping the county's $24.5 million electronic voting system in favor of paper ballots with optical scanners.

Supervisor of Elections Lester Sola made the recommendation Friday in an initial analysis of the county's voting system and the feasibility of adopting a new one. In his report, Sola said that adopting the simpler system could save county taxpayers millions and restore voter confidence by providing a paper record of ballots cast.

In April, an outraged Mayor Carlos Alvarez requested a study on the merits of the optical scan system after revelations that the Elections Department lost hundreds of votes during the March 8 slot machine referendum because of a coding error.

The revelations led former Supervisor of Elections Constance Kaplan to resign on March 31 and were the latest embarrassing chapter in the county's elections. Sola took over the same day.

Alvarez also fumed that the current system has increased the cost of running an election to about $7 million per election.

Sola's report comes days after a voter advocacy group released a disparaging report that cited a litany of problems during last fall's general elections, among them malfunctioning voting machines.

After County Manager George Burgess reviews Sola's report, the issue could head to county commissioners, who could decide to switch systems Sola estimated that replacing the voting machines with paper ballots and optical scanners would take at least 15 months.

Alvarez was attending a funeral late Friday and could not be reached for comment, staff said. In a one-paragraph written statement, Burgess said he would meet with Sola in the coming weeks before making any specific recommendation.

In his report, Sola recommended that county leaders move carefully in exploring purchasing a new system.

But Sola said an initial analysis showed that the county would save more than $13 million over five years with an optical scan system through lower operating costs and the elimination of costly maintenance expenses.

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