New Doubts Raised About Fla. E-Voting System

Touchscreen voting machines didn't perform as well as devices that scanned paper ballots in this year's Florida Democratic presidential primary, raising questions about the state's voting process for the November election, a newspaper reported Sunday.

An analysis of just under half of the ballots from the March 9 election shows that votes were not recorded for about one out of every 100 people using the new machines, or a 1.09 percent rate of undervotes, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (search) reported. An undervote is when a selection cannot be detected on a ballot.

That's at least eight times the number of undervotes in the same election on paper ballots marked with pencils and tallied by an optical scanner, which had a 0.12 percent rate of undervotes, the newspaper reported.

Undervotes were a problem in the contested 2000 presidential election, in which many Floridians cast their ballots on punch-card machines. After 36 days of legal wrangling and recounts, George W. Bush won Florida, and thus the White House, by just 537 votes.

According to a review sponsored by The Associated Press and other news organizations, about 61,190 of 6.1 million total ballots in that election were undervotes, or a 1 percent rate.

The state outlawed the punch-card machines after the 2000 election, and the touchscreen machines were billed as a way to avoid a repeat of the problems. Fifteen Florida counties now use touchscreen machines.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Glenda Hood (search), Florida's top elections official, did not return calls seeking comment Sunday.

The Sun-Sentinel analysis of the March 9 election reviewed nearly 350,000 ballots statewide, or about 44 percent of all ballots cast. The ballots analyzed had only one choice, selection of a Democratic Party presidential nominee.

The analysis found optical scan machines counted 12 overvotes in the March sample, where voters chose more than one candidate. Overvotes are impossible to cast on touchscreen machines. The media-sponsored review of the 2000 election found 113,820 overvotes, a 1.9 percent rate.

The newspaper's findings did not surprise officials of Sequoia Voting Systems and Elections Systems & Software, two companies manufacturing touchscreen machines sold in Florida.

"The most important thing to take from the (Sun-Sentinel) survey findings is that both electronic systems and precinct-based optical scan systems dramatically reduce voter error. ... The Florida numbers demonstrate a substantive improvement over the 2000 presidential election," said Alfie Charles, vice president of business development for Sequoia.

Meghan McCormick, spokeswoman for ES&S, said some voters simply choose to cast blank ballots.

Theresa LePore, Palm Beach County elections supervisor, said it is almost impossible to eliminate undervotes because some people will choose not to vote for any candidate or will make mistakes.

"There is only one perfect voting system," LePore said. "That's the one that doesn't involve humans."