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Mail-only election possible in Palm Beach County in 2006

By Anthony Man     South Florida Sun-Sentinel   September 16 2005

Palm Beach County voters went from the infamous punch card ballots in 2000 to state-of-the-art, touch-screen voting machines in 2002. They might get an even more radical shift for 2006: an election conducted entirely by mail.

Supervisor of Elections Arthur Anderson suggested that possibility Thursday. He said he wasn't endorsing an all-mail election just yet, but simply raising it as an option. Another would be a switch to paper ballots.

Anderson ousted longtime Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore last year after making voter unease about the touch-screen machines a major issue. During the campaign, he promised that he'd implement some kind of voting system that produced a paper record.

Since taking office in January, he has concluded it would be impossible to implement a completely new system in time for the 2006 elections. And he created an Election Technology Advisory Committee, which met Thursday for the first time.

It has several charges from Anderson, including whether to keep or scrap the touch-screen system, figuring out whether printers can be added to the current system, and deciding if paper ballots and optical scanners would be better.

Since Anderson doesn't think a new voting system is possible for the 2006 election, he told the committee it could come up with both short- and long-term solutions. And one of those short-term solutions, he said, was voting by mail.

He noted that Broward County recently conducted small municipal elections by mail. Oregon conducts all its elections by mail, though skeptics there have raised security questions. A mail election would bypass Palm Beach County's touch-screen machines, with paper ballots read by optical scanning devices, he said.

The committee didn't discuss or vote on the idea.

Member Bruce Serell, who represents the county Coalition for Election Reform and is married to Anderson's administrative assistant, wanted "greater attention and a sense of urgency" on getting something other than touch-screen machines in place for 2006. He said an all-mail election might be a good short-term fix.

Jeff Darter, a nonvoting member of the panel, and the Elections Office's information technology manager, defended the touch-screen system. He said it would be "incredibly arrogant to assume" that the people who picked the system did not make good and careful decisions. Darter cautioned against a "rush to judgment based on something they read on the Internet."

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