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From the
Des Moines Register

Florida chaos haunts elections

Register Staff Writer

The 2000 election chaos in Florida continues to cast a shadow on elections nationwide, including in Iowa.

Election officials around the state worry about aging voting machines and a flood of absentee ballots - all of which could come under intense scrutiny in a close race.


All Iowans vote for the same gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates. But they do so with new touch-screen technology in Dallas County, with levers in Sioux and six other Iowa counties and with paper ballots counted by hand in Van Buren County.


Machines to help count votes in more populous counties fall into three general categories:

* Lever machines.

* Optical scanning machines that count special paper ballots.

* Electronic recording devices, such as push button or touch screen.

The Iowa secretary of state's office has recommended that counties discontinue paper ballots and lever machines, which went out of production in 1982.

University of Iowa Professor Douglas Jones favors a variety of options over requiring identical voting machines. A single machine would eliminate innovation in the industry and make it easier for someone to rig an election, he said.

Jones, a computer science professor, also is chairman of the Iowa Board of Examiners for Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems.

"What's very important is that the technology we use give us an equal chance of our vote being counted," Jones said.

The good news is that Iowa banned punch-card voting long ago, he said. Punch cards caused some of Florida's trouble two years ago as election judges tried to determine whether indented or partially punched votes could be counted.

If a recount were demanded in Iowa - one was hinted at in 2000 - similar debates would arise. But help will soon be on the way.

On Tuesday, President Bush signed the "Help America Vote Act of 2002," which gives states $3.9 billion to replace lever machines and other outdated machines, improve voter education and train poll workers.

That money won't make a difference this election night.

Slockett, the Johnson County auditor, said auditors and poll workers across the state work hard to make elections as fair as possible. But errors - some by machines, some by people - are unavoidable.

Those errors are magnified in tight races.

Slockett quoted the auditor's prayer: "Lord, I don't care who wins, just let them win big."