Archive for Saturday, February 3, 2001

Ballot reform measures recommended in Florida

February 3, 2001

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— Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's elections task force on Thursday urged that the discredited punch-card ballot be replaced temporarily by precinct-based optical-scanning equipment by the 2002 election a decision opposed by South Florida counties, which prefer a more advanced touch-screen technology.

Facing controversy for the first time, the bipartisan task force meeting at Nova Southeastern University here adopted a proposal by Secretary of State Katherine Harris' voting systems expert to lease not buy the equipment for one statewide election cycle at a price tag estimated at $20 million.

Elections supervisors in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties all said they would rather use electronic touch-screen voting instead.

The task force was formed by Bush to recommend changes in Florida's voting system following the disputed presidential election in November.

Taking its first votes at the Nova hearing, the panel also proposed the use of a provisional ballot, pending a review of eligibility, to ensure that registered voters are not turned away because of mistakes by election workers.

At Thursday's hearing, attended by about 75 people, Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections David Leahy testified that an optical-scanning system would be difficult to implement in Florida's most populous county because of the large number of county and local races and the need to print ballots in three languages.

"Let each county decide which system to buy," Leahy said.

Broward Supervisor of Elections Miriam Oliphant, in written testimony, said "radical change is needed" and that moving to optical-scanning machines "is shortsighted." Palm Beach's supervisor, Theresa LePore, said she shared Leahy's preference for touch-screen equipment.

But touch-screen voting has not been certified by the state and is much more expensive than optical-scanning equipment. Units cost from $3,000 to $4,000 each, and most precincts would need several. In contrast, an optical scanner costs $6,000, but no precinct would need more than one.

By leasing scanners for one election, task force members agreed the state would avoid being stuck with obsolete machines if better technology comes along in a few years or if touch-screen technology becomes less expensive.

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