Florida county in legal fight over e-voting machines

A Florida county's refusal to purchase specialized voting machines that comply with handicap access laws has put it in the cross hairs of the state's attorney general and handicap rights groups.

On June 29, the Volusia County Council voted 4-3 against authorizing the purchase of 210 touch-screen systems from Diebold Election Systems. According to Florida state law, all counties were obliged to have at least one state-certified touch-screen machine in place by July 1. These particular systems, which have a touch-screen interface, meet the handicap access requirement because they also house devices that enable blind voters to receive verbal prompts to enable them to vote.

The council declined to purchase the machines because they don't generate a paper receipt. The majority of the council is joined by critics who maintain that the touch-screen systems can be rigged for political advantage.

The National Federation of the Blind and others filed suit this week in Orlando Federal District Court.

"This does put Volusia County in a very difficult position," said a county government spokesman. The four-person majority was "not comfortable with the Diebold system, and now we've been sued and we'll defend that action," the spokesman said

He said the council would prefer to buy a hybrid optical-scan system called AutoMark, made by Vogue Election Systems. AutoMark has an audio component to enable the blind to vote, but the system hasn't been certified by Florida.

None of the four council members who voted down the purchase responded to a request for comment.

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist issued a letter dated June 30 to council Chairman Frank Bruno stating that the refusal could subject the county to liability for a civil rights violation.

Ann McFall, the county supervisor of elections, is urging the purchase of the touch-screen machines. She said she has directed her attorney to ask a federal judge in Orlando to either force the county to buy the Diebold machines or allow the election to proceed without them.

A spokesman for McKinney, Texas-based Diebold said the touch-screen machines have been used for 20 years and are completely reliable. In addition, the Diebold AccuVote-TS and TSX machines provide an internal paper receipt and can generate a hard copy of every vote cast via printer, he said.

Volusia County isn't alone in refusing to comply with the July 1 deadline. By emphazing just touch-screen technology, the state has taken a "heavy-handed approach" to enforcing handicap voting accessibility, said Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections in Leon County, which uses optical-scan devices. He wants the paper trail and is holding out for AutoMark certification.

"Voters demand that we can account for every vote 100 percent accurately," Sancho said. "And my goal is to make sure the votes are counted as intended."

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Marc L. Songini

Computerworld
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