A state rule barring the 15 Florida counties with touchscreen voting from conducting manual recounts is at odds with state law, which requires hand recounts in some close elections, a judge ruled Friday.
A coalition including a labor union, government watchdogs and other interest groups sued the state, arguing the law requires provisions for hand recounts in every county, no matter what voting technology is used.
Administrative Law Judge Susan Kirkland (search) agreed, writing that state law clearly contemplates "that manual recounts will be done on each certified voting system, including the touchscreen voting systems."
With a primary election Tuesday and more than half the state's voters in counties that use touchscreens, it is not clear what those counties will do.
Secretary of State Glenda Hood (search), who issued the ruling preventing manual recounts in touchscreen counties in April, was considering appealing Friday's decision, a spokeswoman said. An appeal would keep Hood's rule in place.
Elections supervisors in some of the 15 counties with touchscreens had asked the state what they should do about a law requiring manual recounts when elections are particularly close, because the machines the counties use are not programmed to create a paper record of each vote.
The Division of Elections issued the rule in April saying that because touchscreens do not let people vote for the same candidate twice or unintentionally fail to vote in a particular race, there was no reason for touchscreen counties to conduct hand recounts.
"The touchscreen machines were put in place to avoid the problems that were encountered in the 2000 election," said Jenny Nash, a spokeswoman for Hood who criticized Friday's ruling. "This ruling is a step backward to that time."
Florida's voting system has been under scrutiny since 2000, when it took five weeks of legal maneuvering and some recounting before Republican George W. Bush (search) was declared president over Democrat Al Gore.
In her ruling, Kirkland said the statute clearly requires manual recounts "when the margin of victory is one-quarter of a percent or less or when there is a proper and timely request for a manual recount."
Kurt Browning, the elections supervisor in Pasco County, which has touchscreens, said his county had no plan for recounting by hand, and said there was no practical way to do so.
But Vicki Cannon, the supervisor of elections in rural Nassau County, north of Jacksonville, said she could do a hand recount of touchscreen votes if the election were close enough to require it.
"Certainly we could if the state directed us to," Cannon said. "I would assume that we would print our ballot records, and count the candidates' names. Time consuming, maybe. Difficult? I don't think so."
Officials in larger counties agreed a recount would take time.
"It's not something that would just happen in a day ... at least a week." said Gisela Salas, deputy elections supervisor in Broward County, which has the most voters in the state.
Also Friday, a Maryland judge said he would decide next week whether the state must take additional steps to ensure that Maryland's touchscreen voting machines will provide an accurate vote count in November.