Friday, February 02, 2007

Florida Governor Charlie Crist wants $32M to replace touch-screen voting machines

Fla. gov. wants $32M for voting machines
Associated Press Writer

Governor Charlie Crist says his new legislative budget proposal will fund a paper trail for Florida voting machines.

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Gov. Charlie Crist said Thursday he wants to spend $32 million to get rid of touch-screen voting technology adopted after the 2000 presidential election, and proposed a system that would create a paper trail of votes instead.

The proposal, which still needs legislative approval, aims to have all counties producing paper trails by the 2008 presidential election.

"What we're talking about here is democracy and it is precious," Crist told a crowd of several hundred people at a gathering of the nonpartisan Voters Coalition of Palm Beach County. "You should, when you go vote, be able to have a record of it."

Fifteen of Florida's 67 counties use paperless touch-screen voting machines. The remaining counties use optical scan machines where a voter marks a paper ballot with a pencil and it is electronically scanned.

Critics of the paperless machines say voters are disenfranchised because there is no record for a manual recount should questions arise about an election.

The state will pay to replace touch-screen machines with optical scanners, but supervisors will be given the option to use the now paperless devices for early voting if they retrofit them to produce a paper trail, said Secretary of State Kurt Browning.

"We want to ensure that every ballot cast in Florida will be able to be counted and verified," Browning said.

Florida's voting system attracted national attention in 2000 when dimpled, pregnant and hanging chads on punch card ballots held up a final count in the presidential election. Florida was eventually decided by 537 votes after the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in, handing the election to George W. Bush.

The state has since banned the punch cards and moved to all electronic voting machines. But problems arose again in November in the race to replace former U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris in Florida's 13th District.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Sarasota Republican, was seated last month after a recount showed him ahead 369 votes. More than 18,000 electronic ballots recorded no vote in his contest against Democrat Christine Jennings. His supporters say voters skipped the race intentionally, but Jennings' backers believe the voting machines malfunctioned.

People For the American Way, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based elections watchdog group, said Crist's plan is a good first step, but that more needed to be done to ensure fairness.

Mitchell noted that blind voters, for instance, still need assistance from a poll worker or a family member, and that language barriers would inhibit others from voting alone in some counties.

"We're excited about the money he is putting behind this issue, but we're not suggesting that this is the perfect solution," said Reggie Mitchell, the group's Florida attorney.