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'Paper trail' for '06 ballot weighed

By George Bennett

Palm Beach Post Friday, September 16, 2005

Palm Beach County voters could use something other than paperless touch-screen voting machines in 2006, elections Supervisor Arthur Anderson suggested Thursday as a voting technology committee held its inaugural meeting.

Anderson, who campaigned last year in favor of a ballot "paper trail," said there's not enough time to put a permanent system in place by next fall to replace the touch screens the county has used since 2002.

But the elections chief told the advisory panel it could consider "interim strategies" for 2006. One possibility, which Anderson said he doesn't necessarily advocate, would be to conduct the entire election by mail.

Anderson assembled the 14-member committee over the summer and told the group to make a recommendation on the best system by February. He named Linda Mainord, the chief technology officer for the Palm Beach County School District, to be its chairwoman.

Palm Beach County and most of Florida's large counties use paperless touch-screen voting machines.

Anderson last year advocated adding ballot printers to them to create a paper trail. Later, he said paper optical-scan ballots might be better. He has since said he's open to other possibilities.

Anderson's information technology director, Jeff Darter, defended electronic voting at the meeting and warned against "the issue of nebulous voter intent" that arises when voters mark paper ballots. Darter, who has worked for Anderson's two predecessors, is a non-voting committee member.

Two other panelists distributed handouts suggesting electronic systems are susceptible to errors and fraud.

Anderson urged the panel to keep an open mind and said that "it's very possible that the best voting system has not even been produced yet."

Anderson said he tapped Mainord to lead the committee because of her technological and professional background and because he believes she'll be fair.

Mainord came to the school district last year after holding the top technology job in the Memphis school district.

She said she sees advantages and drawbacks to optical-scan and touch-screen systems.

Memphis voters used paperless touch screens and "we really didn't have any problems," Mainord said, but panelists "need to take a look" at adding a paper trail to boost voter confidence.

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