Florida Shifting to Voting With Paper Trail

After the hanging chads of the 2000 Florida election electronic voting machines were installed to attempt to prevent a repetition of that fiasco. Instead they created problems of their own. The New York Times reports that Florida is now moving to voting systems with a paper trail:

Gov. Charlie Crist announced plans on Thursday to abandon the touch-screen voting machines that many of Florida’s counties installed after the disputed 2000 presidential election. The state will instead adopt a system of casting paper ballots counted by scanning machines in time for the 2008 presidential election.

Voting experts said Florida’s move, coupled with new federal voting legislation expected to pass this year, could be the death knell for the paperless electronic touch-screen machines. If as expected the Florida Legislature approves the $32.5 million cost of the change, it would be the nation’s biggest repudiation yet of touch-screen voting, which was widely embraced after the 2000 recount as a state-of-the-art means of restoring confidence that every vote would count.

Having a Republican such as Crist champion election reform might help end the feeling that it is a Democratic issue, leading many Republicans to dismiss election reform as merely an attempt to dispute elections the Democrats lost. This trend towards requiring a paper ballot is also being seen in other states:

Other states that rushed to buy the touch-screen machines are also abandoning them. Earlier this week, the Virginia Senate passed a bill that would phase out the machines as they wore out, and replace them with optical scanners. The Maryland legislature also seems determined to order a switch from the paperless touch screens, though it is not clear yet if it will require the use of optical scanners or just allow paper printers to be added to the touch screens.

On Monday, Representative Rush D. Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, plans to introduce a bill in Congress that would require all voting machines nationwide to produce paper records through which voters can verify that their ballots were recorded correctly. A majority of House members have endorsed the proposal, and the changes have strong support among Senate Democrats. Mr. Holt’s bill would also substantially toughen the requirements for the touch-screen machines that have printers, and experts say this could give even more impetus to the shift toward the optical scanning systems…

Election experts estimate that paperless electronic machines were used by about 30 percent of voters nationwide in 2006. But their reliability has increasingly come under scrutiny, as has the difficulty of doing recounts without a paper trail. Federal technology experts concluded late last year that paperless touch-screen machines could not be secured from tampering.

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