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No Vote Left Behind

(AP/Sarasota Herald-Tribune)
"Touchscreen voting in Florida is dead!" begins the gleeful statement issued today by Christine Jennings, the Florida Democrat whose (offficially) losing House of Representatives race last November has sparked a sea change in how Florida – and perhaps many other states – handle the brave new world of electronic balloting going forward. "Paperless voting in Florida is a thing of the past," says Jennings.

Indeed, a bill signed by Republican Florida Governor Charlie Crist today not only moved up the Sunshine State's presidential primary to January 2008, it mandates that all voting machines in future elections have a voter-verifiable paper trail (though the reform won't be in place for the early primary).

The law leaves Florida election officials with two choices. The first is touch-screen machines that produce an internal cash-register type of scroll that duplicates the screen choices on paper; voters can see see and check the paper before punching the "vote" button, though no receipt is produced. The second method is a switch to more low tech optical scanners, which are machines that simply count ballots filled in by hand; the ballot itself is the paper trail.

It was the very lack of a verifiable paper trail documenting voter intent that Jennings believes cost her a seat in Congress this year representing Florida's 13th district, centered in Sarasota. While Jennings comfortably won 53% of Sarasota County, the paperless ES&S iVotronic touch-screen machines used there failed to record any House votes for 18,000 ballots. That 16% undervote in Sarasota dwarfed the single-digit undervote rate for the House race in Florida 13's four other counties.

A bill that would require paper trails nationwide is working its way to the House of Representatives floor in Washington.

Ten of the other 14 states that used electronic touch screen voting machines without paper trails in 2006 are considering legislation that would require paper, according to tracking by electionline.org. Virginia has blocked buying any more touch-screens after July. Three states with machines – Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Missouri – are considering bills to require paper-based systems.

None of these reforms will help Jennings reverse the results of last November's disputed race, which led to Republican Vern Buchanan taking the seat in January (officially by 369 votes). The House ultimately has the power to unseat Buchanan, and its Administration Committee, which is overseeing the case, has tasked the Government Accountability Office to probe the race for them.

Jennings who is still suing for a new election in Florida courts, says, "I will continue to fight until we find out what went wrong in November – and until we are confident it will never happen again."

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