By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 3/9/2004 7:27:54 PM ET 2004-03-10T00:27:54

If you were living in America in the year 2000, there’s a good chance you remember images of then-Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and of a bald man using a magnifying glass to inspect a voting ballot.

Butterfly ballots — hanging chads — mistakes were made.  The Florida vote was ultimately decided in Washington.  And now, with Decision 2004 approaching, change has come to Florida.

Glenda E. Hood, the new Florida secretary of state, promises a very different election this time around, “I can sit here very confidently and say that Florida is ready.”

The state has spent $135 million on new technology: ATM-style touch-screens and scanners.

They’ve spent $9 million on people, training the poll workers on how to use the new system, and educating the voters.  A new public service announcement tells Florida residents to “Contact your supervisor of elections and find out how easy and convenient voting can be.”

But not many Floridians or outside experts really believe its going to go well this time around.  “Actually, no.  I don’t think that Florida is really ready for the next election,” said Dr. Rebecca Mercuri of the Kennedy School at Harvard University.

Some of the new equipment here is already obsolete, and there are security concerns — worries about hacking into the system, even though voters must first insert a so-called smart card to vote.

“Anyone who has, say, high school programming expertise could program a smart card to be a valid smart card for the voting system and cast multiple votes.  It’s not that difficult to do,” said Professor Avi Rubin of Johns Hopkins University.

Just ask any Florida voters ,as NBC News did, at a cafe in Kissimmee, what they remember about the last election and their fears about the election to come:

“Embarrassment,” said Thomas Ramirez.

“Disappointment,” added Ted Schieffelin.

“A travesty,” said Vince Lipsio.

In NBC’s group: a student, a sales manager, a software engineer and a state employee.  And, like a lot of Floridians, they worry that a vote by computer unlike the old voting machines or even paper ballots could sail into the abyss, without proof it was ever really recorded.

What is their level of cynicism going into this election?

“Fairly high. I just don’t believe the proper systems are in place to actually count it,” said Schieffelin.

“Bugs in the hardware, bugs in the software, the vote goes into cyberspace,” Lennon Moore said.

“I have faith in the system.  I think it will work,” said Ramirez.

“I’m pessimistic. I think things are rather worse than they were,” Lipsio said.

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