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Florida won't require printouts of touch-screen votes

By George Bennett, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

California will require that its touch-screen voting machines provide paper printouts for each ballot cast, but Florida's top elections official says she does not favor a similar standard here.

California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley's recent paper-trail edict is scheduled to take effect by 2006. The action in the nation's largest state and America's largest market for new voting hardware hands a potentially precedent-setting victory to opponents of paperless electronic voting.

"You have to wonder if it will California-ize the market, if paper trails will become a de facto requirement," said Doug Chapin of Electionline.org, a nonprofit group that monitors election reform.

As manufacturers develop ballot printers to accompany touch screens, Florida will be "very open-minded" in reviewing any printers submitted to the state for certification, Secretary of State Glenda Hood said this week. If printers are certified, Hood said, counties would have the option of using them.

But Hood said making a paper trail a statewide requirement is not necessary because Florida has multiple safeguards to assure the accuracy and security of touch screens, which are used in Palm Beach County and 14 other counties.

"Florida has led the nation in providing security and certification," Hood said. "At this point in time, with the satisfaction that the supervisors continue to show... and the fact that we haven't had complaints from voters, I have a high confidence level."

With punch-card ballots falling from favor after the 2000 election, paperless touch-screen systems have emerged as the leading new technology. A small but vocal group of computer scientists, Internet posters and other critics has charged that electronic voting machines are susceptible to errors and fraud and need a paper backup if questions arise about an election.

The criticisms gained attention in July with a Johns Hopkins University report claiming security problems with Diebold touch screens. This week, a report by the Ohio secretary of state's office found security flaws in touch screens made by all four of the nation's major manufacturers. The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections issued a six-page statement last month defending touch screens and their reliability. The association says touch screens reduce voter errors and are more accessible for voters who are disabled or don't speak English. Also, the association says, paper receipts would add costs and create "a new set of issues and challenges such as paper jams, running out of ink and paper and the realization that they are a mechanical piece of equipment."

The supervisors' report accuses touch-screen critics of "committing a huge disservice to the voting public. The continued unfounded attacks on these systems erode the public's confidence."

Touch-screen manufacturers have defended the accuracy and security of their products but have also positioned themselves to take advantage of any demand for a paper trail.

Sequoia Voting Systems, which makes the touch screens used in Palm Beach County, will market a ballot printer early next year that would add about $500 to the cost of an electronic voting machine, said company spokesman Alfie Charles.

Elections Systems and Software, which makes the touch screens used in 11 Florida counties, says its products are secure and accurate. But spokeswoman Becky Vollmer said ES&S is developing a printer "for those who would like an added layer of confidence."


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