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Florida a Big Test of E-Voting

Aug 16, 2004
By Jacob Ogles

ORLANDO, Florida -- Florida election officials will be relying on touch-screen machines to provide the sole storage of early voting data between now and the state's Aug. 31 primary election day, raising concerns that votes sitting in storage for two weeks could be susceptible to tampering.

Florida law allows voters who can't make it to the polls on election day to cast "convenience votes" up to 15 days before the election. So beginning Monday, the state will open hundreds of locations where voters can cast early ballots for the statewide primary. But to ensure that early voting doesn't sway election outcomes, state law forbids officials from tabulating any votes until the polls close on Aug. 31.

Counties using optically scanned paper ballots will store the ballots in locked iron boxes for two weeks. But 15 counties that use touch-screen machines for early voting will store the votes on the machines.


But at this point, election officials who have opted to use touch-screen technology have little choice about backing up data. State law forbids any examination of ballots until the conclusion of an election.

"The alternative is the development of software that would allow the extraction of ballot data without inspection, but electronic voting is still an eccentric institution," said Douglas Jones, as associate professor of computer science at the University of Iowa. "It's still not really on the map as far as writing laws goes."


In Miami-Dade County, where e-voting recently came under severe scrutiny when back-up files of the 2002 election went missing, armed guards will be on round-the-clock duty at each of 14 major voting locations to prevent anyone from tampering with the primary votes.


But in some counties, the votes will simply be kept under lock and key. Some election supervisors plan to remove electronic ballots that plug into the machines and store them in a different location than the touch-screen machines so that no one could add votes to the machine. Other officials, however, plan to leave the ballots in the machines.


But critics of the technology are uncomfortable with the lack of physical back-up, much less a digital copy of the votes.

Jones recently inspected the machines in Miami-Dade County to ensure they were ready for early voting. He said the greatest threats to the process, such as theft, are just as germane to paper voting as e-voting, but the new technology does come with its own problems.

While those counties using paper ballots can transport the votes to a secure location regularly, the only way to do the same with touch-screen technology would be to have new personal electronic ballots put in the machines every day. "The economics of that would be very bad," he said.

[Editorial gripe: I sid new voting machines, not new PEBs. The writer seems to think the ballots are stored in the PEB on an iVotronic voting machine. This is wrong. The ballots are stored in the machine itself.


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