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Accurate voting record is essential

Editorial     Daytona Beach News-Journal
Last : July 23, 2005

Volusia County officials defending ballot integrity scored a victory Thursday when a federal judge refused to order them to buy controversial touch-screen voting machines for disabled voters in time for this fall's elections.

But the fight is far from over. A group of disabled advocacy groups filed an emergency appeal Friday to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, asking judges to overturn U.S. District Judge John Antoon's decision.

This is a fight the county shouldn't quit, even if it means going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The foundation of democracy rests on the principle that every person has a vote, and every vote is accurately counted. Touch-screen machines like the ones the state wants to force counties to buy have a disturbing record of malfunction. And they may not meet federal standards on ballot access for disabled voters. Those standards have yet to be released.

Troubles with electronic vote-tabulation machines are well documented. But in Volusia County and other areas, optical-scan machines provide voter-marked paper ballots that can be recounted by hand, providing an important safeguard against malfunction or fraud.

With touch-screen voting machines, the opportunity for a manual recount is lost. The only way to check a machine is against its own memory. Supporters of touch-screen machines say its internal systems prevent error, but voting-rights advocates easily refute that by pointing to numerous cases including tests run by officials in other states where machines did not tabulate votes accurately. In one recent demonstration in Leon County, voting-rights advocates hacked into touch-screen voting machines and a central database to change records of votes in a mock election.

Some states, including California, have banned machines that don't produce a paper record that can be seen and verified by voters.

That creates a problem for handicapped voters, many of whom can't mark paper ballots used in Volusia County's machines. Unfortunately, the only handicapped-accessible system approved by Florida state officials a touch-screen system made by Diebold does not provide paper copies of ballots. The county could choose another system that provides a paper ballot, such as the Automark system, which voting advocates say is more handicapped-accessible than the Diebold model. Unlike Diebold machines, AutoMark Voter Assist terminals can also accommodate people who are partly or completely paralyzed.

Some California counties already use the Automark, and company officials say they're proceeding with tests to certify the system in Florida.

The irony of the Volusia County conflict is that, with a little more time, the county could purchase machines that are better for all voters with handicaps. That could still happen, if the county remains firm in its court battle.

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