Election controversy hits Florida, again
Sarasota recount is complicated by electronic voting systems. One solution: Bring back paper.
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The state has tested for any problems 10 computers, five of which were used in the election. Officials are also testing the software to make sure it is identical to the program certified by the state. Once these tests are finished, the state should be able to say with certainty if the computers malfunctioned, Ms. Dent says.Skip to next paragraph
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But some election experts disagree. A comprehensive testing regime would be too complicated to be done quickly, says Mr. Hertzberg, and even then, testers may never know.
"The entire result is 100 percent reliant on the software itself, and there's no way to validate the vote total," he says. The bottom line: "You can't trust the result."
Last week, the National Institute of Standards and Technology came to the same conclusion about all electronic voting machines that do not have an independent voter-verified audit trail. Officials ultimately must trust that the software has remained error-free. "Verifying that this is the case is so complex as to be infeasible; current testing methods could not guarantee this," the report said.
Ken Fields, a spokesman for Election Systems & Software, the company that makes the machines used in Sarasota, says computer malfunctions can be ruled out through testing. The machines "have been proven time and time again to accurately record votes," he says.
The equipment has safeguards, including two different digital records of the votes that can be compared. Voters are also given a chance on-screen to verify their selections.
However, Mr. Fields says, "the security and accuracy of an election depend not only on the equipment, but on the processes used" by the jurisdictions.
In its review, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported Tuesday that it found only one significant pattern in the undervotes: A disproportionate number came from straight-ticket voters in both parties. The report surmises that such voters were probably moving quickly through the ballot and, because of poor ballot design, missed the House race. The newspaper notes that the undervote distributions suggest no computer problems, but "machine error can't be completely ruled out."
Some voters will probably use the same touch-screen machines in 2008 and beyond. Election officials are wary of current paper-trail systems on the market because printers have been known to jam, printed records can be difficult to interpret, and few voters actually look at the printouts, says Doug Lewis, executive director of the National Association of State Election Directors.
Voters in Sarasota, however, decided last month to replace their touch screens with optical scanners, an electronic system that counts paper ballots.
But there's still this year's House race to sort out. The losing candidate, Ms. Jennings, is contesting the election in the hopes of getting a judge to order another. The case is scheduled for Dec. 15. Jennings could also appeal to the House for a new election.
Some residents feel that Jennings's efforts are just prolonging a bitter race. "It was a very nasty campaign," says Ruth Bellaire, a retiree. "I think a lot of people didn't want to vote, to tell the truth."