Fla. E-Voting Machines Working OK

Touchscreen machines brought in to replace the punchcard ballots at the center of the 2000 presidential fiasco appeared to work smoothly in primary voting Tuesday in their last major tryout before the November election.

Secretary of State Glenda Hood said her office had no reports of major problems after the last of the polls closed, even in the most populous counties and those hit hardest by Hurricane Charley (search).

"Things went very smoothly," said Hood, who visited precincts around the state Tuesday. "Voters should feel very confident."

Hood had said most of the problems she had heard about were people who were unsure how to find their precincts.

Despite reports from some voter watch groups, Hood said she received no reports of problems with the ATM-style touchscreen voting machines that are used in 15 counties, which critics argue are vulnerable to tampering and glitches.

One precinct in Polk County briefly lost power, but the machines were on battery backup and voting was not disrupted, she said.

Cindy Cohn, a lawyer working with the Election Protection coalition, said the group received isolated reports of machines not booting up or freezing on voters, and that in Broward County, there were reports that some machines failed to call up a Democratic ballot. Broward Elections officials said they had no report of problems.

"There's nothing about today that alleviates the concern we've been raising all along," said Cohn. "These machines haven't been independently tested, they don't have an audit trail. ... This idea that we have to cross our fingers and hope everything went OK is no way to run an election."

But Yvonne Galore, of the Broward County community of Pembroke Pines, liked her touchscreen experience "because the paper was confusing, honestly," she said. "This introduces more color and clarity."

Evelyn Stauber, of nearby Delray Beach, disagreed.

"I'd like a paper chain," Stauber said. "How do I know that it's being received the way I voted. And if there is a challenge, how do I contest it?"

Election rights groups placed poll monitors and on-call attorneys at scattered precincts to take statements from people who did have problems, such as 33-year-old Miami resident Blas Lopez.

Lopez had no problem with the machine, but a poll worker gave him a nonpartisan ballot even though he is a registered Democrat.

"No matter how sophisticated the system is, it's only as strong as the poll workers," said Lopez, who realized the mistake only after voting and was then unable to vote in the Democratic Senate primary.

In Miami's predominantly black Liberty City neighborhood, which had voting problems in 2002, retiree John Rollins voted by touchscreen and said: "It was very easy. The only thing I don't like is the fine print on the machines. It's too small."

The touchscreen machines are the state's solution to the much-maligned and no-longer-used punchcard ballots, which were responsible for delaying the outcome of the 2000 race between George Bush and Al Gore for more than a month.

Critics say the touchscreen machines threaten the integrity of elections because they produce no paper record to verify votes if there are problems.

Two years ago, it took Florida a week to determine the outcome of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, in large part because of problems Miami-Dade and Broward counties had opening and closing polls and tallying votes.

Last week, an administrative law judge ruled that a state rule barring the 15 Florida counties that use touchscreens from doing manual recounts is at odds with state law, which requires hand recounts in certain close elections. The rule will remain in place for now because of an automatic 30-day stay allowing Hood time to decide whether to appeal.

Other Florida counties use optical scanner machines, where voters use pencils to mark ballots that are then counted by computers.

In Volusia County, home to Daytona Beach, five precincts had problems with the scanners, said Supervisor of Elections Deanie Lowe. Lowe said voting was not halted, and that votes went into a "secure emergency bin" during the half-hour it took to complete repairs, to be scanned at the end of the day.