Lost Record of Vote in ’02 Florida Race Raises ’04 Concern

NYT – 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.

Kevin Drum gives this a hearty “Hoo boy.” Stephen Green counters with “Uh-Oh” and some words of hope.

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?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DCE says:

    New Hampshire also uses the ‘old fashioned’ paper ballot/optical reader system for the same reason. The state abandoned the punch card system over 20 years ago due to problems like those in Florida. Electronic voting is unlikely any time in the near future as the state constitution requires that ballots must be held by the Secretary of State’s office for a period of time (I believe it’s a year) before they can be disposed of. While old fashioned and bulky, the paper ballot system has one thing going for it – it works.

  2. McGehee says:

    Georgia, on the other hand, abandoned the scantron-style ballot in favor of electronic voting, and I’m still not exactly sure why. The process involves an extra step, and as the Florida story makes clear there are vulnerabilities that didn’t exist with paper ballots.

    As for punchcard voting, that’s the format I voted with the first time, and for 14 years in California, and I never once heard of any complaints about chads until Florida 2000. And we had butterfly ballots too — again, no complaints.

    So I think I would have had very little sympathy for the Gore camp in 2000 even if I were a Democrat, or for the Bush camp if the positions in that fight had been reversed.

  3. Dodd says:

    Here’s a point few people made in the 2000 debacle that I think bears noting: All the complaints about “spoiled” ballots being the result of some sort of plot (i.e., the infamous butterfly ballot, designed by a Democrat, that supposedly caused stupid people to vote for Buchanan instead of Gore as God intended) were utterly inapposite. The first time I voted via California’s hopelessly complicated punchcard system (very obviously designed by a committee of Democrats), I spoiled my ballot. They happily gave me another. Anyone in Florida could’ve made the same request and, I expect, there are signs saying so in every polling place (there were in mine that day).