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The Miami Herald

Glitch forces change in vote audits

Miami-Dade and Broward counties will have to use a backup method to audit upcoming election results because of a flaw in voting machine software.

May 15, 2004

The company that makes the touch-screen voting machines for Miami-Dade and Broward counties said Friday that they will have to work around a glitch in the machines' auditing system because the software that would correct it will not be certified by the state in time for the fall elections.

Even so, elections chiefs in both counties said their offices have a method of dealing with the flaw that will take more time but assure a proper count.

Election Systems & Software of Nebraska told Miami-Dade elections chief Constance Kaplan in April that the state would certify the new software by June 1.

But after meetings at County Hall that included Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood and Miami-Dade Commissioner Betty Ferguson on Thursday and Friday, Kaplan said the new system would not be available for countywide elections at the end of August and the presidential election in November.


The glitch only affects audits performed days after the election itself. The problem, according to Kaplan, is in the flashcard that downloads the voting information. When the votes are downloaded, some machines scramble the serial number of the machine, making it difficult to identify where the votes came from.

The software error will not affect the vote totals on the night of the election because they are removed from a cartridge in the iVotronic machine, which is then installed in a main computer at voting headquarters.

University of Iowa professor Douglas Jones, who formerly chaired the Iowa Board of Examiners for voting machines and electronic voting systems, attended the meetings in Miami-Dade.

The flashcard problem ''is a flat out error,'' said Jones. ``It doesn't corrupt votes, but it's a flat out error. Auditing is one of those things that is incredibly important.''

Turning to Laptops

To work around the problem, Kaplan said, laptops will be attached to each of 6,600 or so voting machines to extract the information.

''It's going to be a labor intensive collection of data,'' she said.

Broward will use the same format for its 6,020 machines.

''The new software would have made things easier, but we're prepared to move on with what we have,'' said Deputy Elections Supervisor Gisela Salas.

Jones, whose state uses the same system, said the meetings convinced him Miami-Dade has a handle on the situation.

''I am comfortable with it,'' Jones said.

Miami-Dade has been aware of the problem for almost a year. Orlando Suarez, an employee in the county e-Government technology department, sent a memo to the elections department on June 6, 2003, telling of problems he encountered with the machine after randomly selecting a precinct from the May 20, 2003, North Miami Beach runoff election.


But the issue wasn't brought to the public's attention until local activists in the Election Reform Coalition found the memo in November after a public records request, according to member Dan McCrea.


Coalition member and attorney Lida Rodriguez-Taseff said she spoke with Kaplan in December and in March. ''We've been trying to get answers on it for a very long time,'' she said.

McCrea said Jones' evaluation has eased his group's mind -- somewhat.

''An expert has said it appears we can adequately work without it,'' said McCrea. ``One of the things we learned is Dade County can't only rely on certified standards. This shouldn't have made it through certification.''

Herald staff writer Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.