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The Tampa Tribune

Paper Trail Difficult to Blaze

Feb 15, 2007
By Catherine Dolinski

TALLAHASSEE -- More than six years after Florida decided the presidential election by hanging chads, the state is still struggling to prove to voters that their votes are counted, and counted accurately.

With voters going to the polls early next year to vote for the next presidential nominees, Gov. Charlie Crist and his secretary of state are seeking answers in paper-trail technology.

Several options exist - and every one is flawed.

If the Legislature gives Crist his way this spring, Florida will spend $32.5 million to place optical-scan machines in every precinct, allowing voters to use paper ballots. Touchscreen machines outfitted with printers would accommodate the disabled.

Some experts say that plan raises other concerns about election integrity, ...


The beauty of optical-scan voting lies in its simplicity.


With an optical-scan system, there is room for human error, said Ted Selker, Massachusetts Institute of Technology director of the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project.

"With the optical scan, you don't know which ballot was actually scanned, and you don't know whether the ballot actually had the [right] words on it or not," said Selker, who has observed election activities in Florida and other states.


Today, said Jim Dickson, who lobbies Congress on voting issues for the American Association of People with Disabilities, touchscreen machines remain the disabled voter's best option on the market.


Crist's paper-trail proposal would accommodate the disabled by retrofitting the touchscreen machines with printers - at least one per precinct.

Mention of those printers makes voting machine experts cringe.

"They jam, they don't always print, and people make silly mistakes running them," said Douglas Jones, a computer science professor at the University of Iowa and former chairman of the Iowa Board of Examiners for Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems.

If no one notices a printer jam, he said, voters may vote on a machine that has stopped producing a paper trail. The paper itself, often a roll of thermal paper, may degrade easily and become difficult to read.

Pending federal legislation complicates the issue. ... the paper must be of "archival" quality, storable and auditable for 22 months.

"It costs $1,200 to put a printer on a [touchscreen machine], and none of the printers currently on the market can comply ... ," said Ion Sancho, Leon County's elections supervisor. ...


AutoMARK The Answer?

When the Florida Senate Ethics and Election Committee held a public forum in Tallahassee last month, more than one speaker touted the hybrid AutoMARK system.


The AutoMARK has shortcomings, however. A printer for a touchscreen machine may cost less than $1,500. An AutoMARK can exceed $5,000.

Also, the device's performance record is not perfect. ...