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Tiny town could be Waterloo for vote machines
Miami Herald  BY FRED GRIMM  21 November 2006

Defenders of electronic voting machines can explain away the disappearance of 18,380 votes in Florida's 13th District congressional election as the dross of disgusted voters after a nasty campaign.

Or the results of a confusing ballot design.

They deny the election was compromised by a bug-ridden, unreliable electronic voting system.

That won't be so easy in Waldenburg, Ark. Waldenburg voted on ES&S machines, the same system used in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

In Sarasota County, Republican Vern Buchanan enjoyed a 369-vote margin over Democrat Christine Jennings in an election in which more than 18,000 voters mysteriously decided not to bother with the congressional race.

That was 10 times more undervotes than usual. But Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent defended her voting machines. She subscribed to the theory that voters were turned off by an onslaught of negative advertising.

Voters discouragement can't explain the undervote in Waldenburg, population 80, a microcosm of high-tech voting vagaries.


Randy Wooten, owner of Randy's Karaoke Bar out on Highway 14 and one of three mayoral candidates, received no votes. Not even his own.

''He voted for himself. I watched him,'' said Roxanne Wooten, the candidate's wife. ''I was standing right behind him. And then I voted for him,'' she told me Monday.

Neither vote registered on the ES&S machine. Poinsett County election official insisted that their touch-screen machines were working just fine, that Waldenburg's improbable undervote was due to ``operator error.''

Not hardly, said Roxanne Wooten. She said, ``I noticed that the machine was acting jumpy.''

But she made sure she voted for her husband. It was the one vote that mattered.

Randy's two opponents split 36 votes. He came up empty.


Voting officials in Poinsett County, Arkansas, have the same problem as their counterparts in 15 of Florida's largest counties. They've spent a huge amount of taxpayer money for unreliable voting machines, and now they've got to defend the damn things or look like fools.

''Imagine if the 13th congressional race had been as important as the Virginia Senate race ended up being. The country would have had a major crisis,'' said Avi Rubin, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University and the author of Brave New Ballot, The Battle to Safeguard Democracy in the Age of Electronic Voting.

In January, civic activist Kindra Muntz started a petition drive toward a referendum to force Sarasota County to revert to a paper ballot system. (Not a paper trail or a paper receipt linked to the same wormy touch-screen software, she insisted, but a paper ballot system.)

She succeeded, despite a lawsuit filed by Florida Secretary of State Sue Cobb, who has demonstrated more interest in protecting the voting machine vendors' reputation than voters' intent.


The referendum passed with 55 percent of the vote. This week, Sarasota Elections Supervisor Kathy Dent, up to her ears in this voting mess, said she would comply with the voters' wishes to junk touch-screens.

Maybe Sarasota's uprising will inspire voters in Broward, Miami-Dade and other Florida counties stuck with touch-screen machines.

At least two voters in Waldenburg have lost their confidence in high-tech voting. ''If Randy had received just two votes, instead of zero, nobody would have said anything,'' Roxanne said.

What would have happened, I asked, if those dubious machines had given him just one vote. She laughed. ``Well, then I'd be in trouble. I'd probably have been divorced by now.''

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