Florida Launches Statewide Voter Awareness Program
Joe Raedle  /  Getty Images file
In Miami, Joseph Steiner walks past a touchscreen voting machine as he attends a voter education program in May. Local election officials hope to avoid a repeat of the 2000 presidential election with a federal project to educate the public about voting machines before the November election.
updated 8/31/2004 8:16:12 PM ET 2004-09-01T00:16:12

Touchscreen machines brought in to replace the punchcard ballots at the center of the 2000 presidential fiasco appeared to work smoothly in primary voting Tuesday, in a crucial test for Florida two months before the November election.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of State Glenda Hood said her office had no reports of major problems, even in the most populous counties and those hit hardest by Hurricane Charley.

“Everything is going very smoothly,” said Hood, who visited precincts around the state Tuesday.

Concerns have centered on the ATM-style touchscreen voting machines that are used in 15 counties and which critics argue are vulnerable to tampering and glitches.

But Yvonne Galore, of the Broward County community of Pembroke Pines, liked her touchscreen experience “because the paper was confusing, honestly,” she said. “This introduces more color and clarity.”

Election monitors in place
Election rights groups placed poll monitors and on-call attorneys at scattered precincts to take statements from people who did have problems, such as 33-year-old Miami resident Blas Lopez.

Lopez had no problem with the machine, but a poll worker gave him a nonpartisan ballot even though he is a registered Democrat.

“No matter how sophisticated the system is, it’s only as strong as the poll workers,” said Lopez, who realized the mistake only after voting and was then unable to vote in the Democratic Senate primary.

In Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, which had voting problems in 2002, retiree John Rollins voted by touchscreen and said: “It was very easy. The only thing I don’t like is the fine print on the machines. It’s too small.”

The touchscreen machines are the state’s solution to the much-maligned and no-longer-used punchcard ballots, which were responsible for delaying the outcome of the 2000 race between George Bush and Al Gore for more than a month.

For some, verification an issue
Critics say the touchscreen machines threaten the integrity of elections because they produce no paper record to verify votes if there are problems.

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Two years ago, it took Florida a week to determine the outcome of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, in large part because of problems Miami-Dade and Broward counties had opening and closing polls and tallying votes.

Last week, an administrative law judge ruled that a state rule barring the 15 Florida counties that use touchscreens from doing manual recounts is at odds with state law, which requires hand recounts in certain close elections. The rule will remain in place for now because of an automatic 30-day stay allowing Hood time to decide whether to appeal.

Other Florida counties use optical scanner machines, where voters use pencils to mark ballots that are then counted by computers.

In Volusia County, home to Daytona Beach, five precincts had problems with the scanners, said Supervisor of Elections Deanie Lowe. Lowe said voting was not halted, and that votes went into a “secure emergency bin” during the half-hour it took to complete repairs, to be scanned at the end of the day.

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