Lost Record of Vote in ’02 Florida Race Raises ’04 Concern
Almost all the electronic records from the first widespread use of touch-screen voting in Miami-Dade County have been lost, stoking concerns that the machines are unreliable as the presidential election draws near. The records disappeared after two computer system crashes last year, county elections officials said, leaving no audit trail for the 2002 gubernatorial primary. A citizens group uncovered the loss this month after requesting all audit data from that election.
A county official said a new backup system would prevent electronic voting data from being lost in the future. But members of the citizens group, the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, said the malfunction underscored the vulnerability of electronic voting records and wiped out data that might have shed light on what problems, if any, still existed with touch-screen machines here. The group supplied the results of its request to The New York Times. “This shows that unless we do something now – or it may very well be too late – Florida is headed toward being the next Florida,” said Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, a lawyer who is the chairwoman of the coalition.
The need for a high tech fix is unclear. Indeed, by most accounts, the most reliable system is old fashioned paper ballots. While rather antiquated, Alabama uses a very simple method: Voters are given a ballot and a marker and fill in the box next to their candidate’s name. The votes are tallied by a mark-sense reader but can easily be checked by human eyes. No chads to hang, no records to get lost, no need to worry about the power going out. And there are poll watchers from both parties to ensure no hanky-panky with the ballots.
Update (0958): Steven Taylor wonders, “[I]f the issue was voter confusion, did they really think that people who can’t adequately punch a stylus through a piece of flimsy cardboard are going to have an easier time with computers?”
He also notes that electronic voting would naturally fuel conspiracy theorists. Quite right. If Florida had come out within a couple hundred votes in 2000, with the winner’s brother in charge of the executive branch, could you imagine Al Gore accepting defeat with the grace and magninimous spirit that has been his hallmark if there were no paper ballots to fall back on?