Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Undervotes in Florida: Poor Ballot design vs touchscreen voting machine glitch

Did Florida Foul Another Ballot?
By Kim Zetter
Six years after the phrase "Florida recount" entered the national lexicon, another recount in the Sunshine State is sparking new controversies about poorly designed ballots, faulty voting equipment and negligent election officials.

This time the problem isn't butterfly ballots and hanging chads, however, but the new, multimillion-dollar touch-screen voting equipment that officials purchased in the wake of the 2000 election fiasco.

The machines, critics say, may have lost more than 18,000 votes cast in Sarasota County last week for a congressional seat that Republican candidate Vern Buchanan seized by a margin of fewer than 400 votes.

That's because 18,382 ballots recorded no vote for either Buchanan or his Democratic opponent, Christine Jennings, in the 13th Congressional District -- a House seat that previously belonged to Katherine Harris, the former Florida secretary of state who played a pivotal role in the 2000 presidential recount.

Critics are calling this new recount a sham, since the touch-screen machines have no paper trail and questions about the missing votes remain unanswered. They say a planned legal challenge contesting the results, likely to be filed next week, could help prove once and for all that electronic voting systems are unreliable.

"We're hoping this situation in Sarasota is going to show how absolutely insane it is to have these machines recording our votes ... or not recording our votes," says Susan Pynchon of the Florida Fair Elections Coalition.

The problems in Florida are being seized upon by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-New Jersey) and others as a reason to support a bill pending in Congress that would require voter-verified paper trails to be used on all electronic voting machines in the country. Currently only about 17 states that use touch-screen machines have laws requiring such auditing trails.

Sarasota Elections Supervisor Kathy Dent did not respond to a request for comment, but initially dismissed the importance of the missing votes in her county, saying that voters either failed to see the race on the ballot because it appeared high at the top of a ballot page that also included the governor's race, or they simply decided not to vote in that race -- although they did cast votes in other races on the ballots.,72130-0.html?tw=wn_index_1

Friday, November 17, 2006
Voting blunder puts Florida in spotlight again
By Pauline Vu, Staff Writer

Just when it seemed the pre-election fears of widespread voter machine malfunctions were as overblown as Y2K concerns, Florida has emerged, once again, to shake the electorate with another voting snafu.

In 2000, the state made headlines for its botched presidential election, which had pundits debating butterfly ballots and poll workers peering at hanging chads. This inspired the Help America Vote Act, which provided billions for states to replace punch-card and lever machines with electronic voting equipment.

Now, Florida has a contested race in the 13th Congressional District, where Republican Vern Buchanan is clinging to a narrow lead over Democrat Christine Jennings. Like its predecessor, this race could also spur election reform by requiring paper trails for the touch-screen voting machines that at least 34 states use. So far 22 states require the machines, which resemble ATMs, to include a paper trail, according to, a nonpartisan research group that tracks states’ voting procedures.

This election, where one-third of registered voters used high-tech voting equipment for the first time, was reported to have few problems afterward, but it did have its share of glitches. There were examples of equipment crashing all over the country, machines counting votes for the wrong candidate in Texas, an apparatus that turned a Republican into a Democrat in Alabama, and long lines forming in Ohio and Florida as poll workers struggled to turn on the machines...

More continued...

One voting expert, Ted Selker, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the co-director of the MIT/Caltech Voting Project, has researched the link between poor ballot design and undervotes. In an interview with The Miami Herald, Selker said the fact that the 13th District race and the governor’s race were on the same page of the screen caused some voters to overlook the congressional race...


Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Florida)

March 21, 2002 Thursday Sarasota Edition

Blank ballots still a factor;
The undervote percentage Tuesday is only a bit lower than with punch cards.

One of every 84 voters in the school tax referendum Tuesday voted for nothing. The touch-screen voting machines used in the election were designed to cut the number of uncounted votes. The machines don't allow voters to make too many choices, a problem that nullified thousands of ballots in the 2000 presidential election. And they make it more difficult for voters to accidentally skip questions.

But the percentage of blank ballots, or undervotes, cast in Tuesday's election was only slightly lower than the rate of undervotes in a 2000 school tax referendum, when voters used the now maligned punch-card ballots. On Tuesday, 941 voters out of 79,034, or 1.19 percent, did not register a vote in the tax referendum, the lone issue on almost every ballot. In July 2000, when the school question was the only item on every ballot, there were 663 undervotes out of 48,529, or 1.37 percent. While that may be interpreted as a sign that Sarasota County never had serious problems with its punch-card system, Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent said she hopes the rate of uncounted votes will drop with more voter and poll worker education.

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