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May 28, 2005
Haste Makes Waste, Even In Florida

Remember the hue and cry that ensued from the use of punch-card ballots in Florida for the 2000 election? After decades of use across the nation, we were led to believe that Florida voters suddenly became completely inept at punching ballots. New voting systems had to be bought, now, in order to save the poor incompetent dears from themselves. Anyone who balked or asked questions hated democracy, of course.

Unfortunately, millions of dollars later, those questions have not disappeared. Miami-Dade's new voting machines are heading for the scrap heap, a $25 million testament to impulse buying and a lack of proper time and effort for researching needs and requirements:

Miami-Dade County's elections chief has recommended ditching its ATM-style voting machines, just three years after buying them for $24.5 million to avoid a repeat of the hanging and dimpled chads from the 2000 election.

Elections supervisor Lester Sola said in a memo Friday that the county should switch to optical scanners that use paper ballots, based on declining voter confidence in the paperless touch-screen machines and quadrupled election day labor costs.

Fifteen of Florida's 67 counties chose touch-screen machines after the 2000 election fiasco. The machines have caused problems during at least six elections, including the September 2002 primary, when some polls could not open and close on time and Democratic primary results for governor were delayed by a week.

Perhaps some lessons can be learned from this fiasco, which will cost Florida residents another $12 million to correct, for the optical-scan ballots that require voters to fill in bubbles on a paper ballot (assuming we can trust them to use a pen properly).

Lesson 1: All balloting methods carry a certain margin of error. Voters aren't perfect, and they will make mistakes.

Lesson 2: Assumption of responsibility for correctly casting a ballot should be on the voter, not the system.

Lesson 3: One bad experience after over 40 years of service -- an experience that doesn't even relate to the machines themselves -- does not demand the wholesale replacement of an entire system of voting.

Lesson 4: When upgrading to new technology, it helps to have a clear statement of the system requirements -- say, a paper record for review. Obviously, if electoral laws require recount procedures be available, paper records must be produced to validate the results.

Lesson 5: Look around to see what works in other areas. Minnesota has used the optical-scan technology that utilizes a paper record but validates the ballot to be error-free before the voter leaves the polling station. From this report, that system looks to cost half as much as the ATM-style touchscreens that Miami-Dade bought anyway.

Florida can thank all the hysterics from the aftermath of the 2000 election for wasting millions of dollars on the wrong technology. In truth, they could have saved 99% of that cash by simply printing signs that stated that voters should double-check their punch cards for fully punched selections before leaving the booth, and therefore put the onus for reliable voting processes where it belongs: on the voters themselves.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 28, 2005 10:11 AM

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» Florida's Rush to Change Voting from pekin prattles
Capt. Ed over at Captain's Quarters has given a nice look into problems with Florida voting....not state-wide, but in a few a result of the bruhaha in 2000. Check it here. However, Ed, you missed one major point in the entire displa... [Read More]

Tracked on May 28, 2005 10:36 PM

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