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Touch Screen Voting Trouble in Florida 574

usn2fsu03 writes "Here we go again with another election controversy in South Florida. Touch screen voting was used in a State House election that was won by twelve votes. Unfortunately, there were 134 people who went through the process of checking in to vote, but either did not vote or cast a vote that was not counted. Without a paper trail it is anyone's guess as to what those voters' intentions were. Obviously, there is work to be done in the Election Supervisor's office before November comes around."
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Touch Screen Voting Trouble in Florida

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  • Re:Voter intent? (Score:5, Informative)

    by aborchers ( 471342 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:23PM (#7929704) Homepage Journal
    Can someone please explain to me when this became a land where we had to determine what a voter intended and not what he actualy voted for (or in this case didn't vote for).

    In the case of Florida, it's a matter of law that the intent of the voter is to be honored. The intent stipulation arises out of an acknoledgement that all recording systems are subject to innacuracies, and that the noblest thing to do is to honor the will of the voter, rather than the output of the machine.

    This is obviously an extreme example, but it should be illustrative:

    Imagine a ballot-punching machine where a peg for one of the candidates breaks an hour before the polls close. Noone notices this and the voters go on pressing the button for that candidate until closing time, assuming they voted for him or her.

    In the end, the vote count is wrong, underrepresenting that candidate's support. In this case, the intent of the voters was not registered even though they acted in good faith and without making any mistakes.

    It is this type of scenario that the intent law is intended to remedy. The will of the voters is paramount to the output of a machine that can be tampered with, broken, or buggy.

  • by ( 664381 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:23PM (#7929709) Homepage
    If your vote isnt counted then you have been deneid your right to vote . :-)
  • by rbird76 ( 688731 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:30PM (#7929796)
    What sources have you read? As previously noted (in the NYT, et al. - there have been multiple references/links to it on /.) Bush lost 6 of the 9 recounts - Gore won most by 1000 votes. The Gore-conditioned recounts gave Bush the victory, while Bush's desired methods gave the vote to Gore. I think Gore also won in a few other vote counting variants. That doesn't seem like "all the other independent investigations prove that Bush did win in Florida". Of course, it could also be that having the person running Bush's campaign in FL also in charge of the vote counting in FL, two SC justices having immediate family working for the Bush campaign, or Bush's brother running the state with contested recounts might give an impression of impropriety...

    Regardless, what's so hard for people to figure out? Having two paper copies (one so the person knows what they voted, another as a backup to the electronic vote, treated as the paper votes are now, both containing numeric impersonal codes for each vote) and a computer copy is neither difficult to implement nor expensive. It provides the ability to verify election results (although considering FL, I can see why you wouldn't want THAT). It would allow for the rapid count advantages of computer polls and have a secure backup in case of (or when) problems happen. Instead, the emphasis is on all-electronic voting with security holes one could drive a truck through. Irrelevant of the (supposed) stupidity of some FL voters, this doesn't seem like a hard concept to grasp.
  • by Picass0 ( 147474 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:33PM (#7929854) Homepage Journal
    Most of these people are old enough to have voted in the old voting booths with hundreds of little levers. Rows and rows of them. And then there was the big red lever that commited your vote.

    These people could operate that system, but can't touch a button on a screen? Bullshit. They didn't vote, or the software is fsck'ed. But we'll never know, because there's no hard copy.

    Why are we having this system pushed on us instead of the no.2 pencil and ovals? That system is electronic, it's verfiable, it's an established technology.

    Despite the tin foil beenie cap conspiracy freeks who think tri-lateralists are behind all of this, I think we are seeing an example of government contracting abuse. Florida has paid for a bunch of machines and now finds they don't work.

  • by jdunlevy ( 187745 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:33PM (#7929858) Homepage
    When voters hit the ''send'' button after failing to select a candidate, the touch screen gives them a warning. But it doesn't prevent them from voting anyway or, in this case, nonvoting.
    That's probably what many did, suggested Gisela Salas, the former Miami-Dade deputy elections supervisor who now works for newly appointed Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes.
    ''It happens in every election,'' Salas said. ``There are people who make the choice not to select any candidates.''
    This sounds like a perfectly reasonable explanation of the voters' behaviour and the nonvotes, but it also raises a serious question about the way votes are recorded. Namely: just because a voter chooses not to vote for any candidate in a given race, why on earth would that mean that the voting machine doesn't record that choice? Simply log it as an undervote, "none selected," or whatever, but it would seem a serious oversight if, rather than logging "nothing," the system simply doesn't log anything.

    And yes, a verifiable paper trial sure would help in situations where there are questions like this -- of course the paper receipt would have to be printed for and indicate nonvotes.

  • In Pennsylvania we have electronic voting machines. They are walls of membrane buttons with little LED's that light when you make a selection. They started using them in 1992, and have since replaced all the old mechanical machines. In fact, they are simply an electronic replacement for the old machanical voting machines, they work the same way. (Just pushing buttons instead of flipping switches.) Instead of pulling the handle to register your vote, you press a pig green "VOTE" button.

    They even tally the votes the same way, through counters that are read off periodically throughout the day.

    One of the selections in every category is "I am not casting a vote." I recall that at the top there is an option to cast a completely blank ballot. (The party lever has been removed, thankfully.)

    Sure it's low-tech. But I like it.

  • Re:Republicans (Score:3, Informative)

    by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:46PM (#7930035)

    "Is it any coincidence that a Republican won the election?"

    It's not a coincidence: There were only Republicans on the ballot. The surprising thing is that election officials seem to think that it's more appropriate for a Democrat to vote for a Republican than to not vote at all. (The really surprising thing is that the nonvotes were only one percent or so, meaning a whole lot of straight-ticket Democrats DID vote for a Republican when that was the only choice.)
  • by Carbonite ( 183181 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:47PM (#7930059)
    If the number of absentee ballots is significantly smaller than the margin of victory in the regular election, there really isn't any need to count them. It's the same reason baseball teams don't play the bottom of the ninth inning if the home team is ahead: there's no point.
  • by aborchers ( 471342 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:51PM (#7930106) Homepage Journal
    I'm sorry, but since when was any vote-counting system designed to interpret what a voter's intent was, beyond correctly-cast votes?

    Vote-counting systems (in the big sense of end-to-end counting and certification, not just talking about balloting hardware) in Florida must honor the intent of the voter as a matter of law.

    The law is designed to address the array of things that can go wrong with the voting process and equipment, and ensure that the intent of the voter is paramount to any vagueries introduced by the equipment or counting procedures. How anyone could think this is a bad thing (unless they were in the process of exploiting such vagueries) is beyond me...

  • by gerddie ( 173963 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:04PM (#7930292)
    Belive it or not, in Germany we draw crosses with a pen on the ballots and votes are counted by hand and the prelimiary results are usually available about six hours after the polling stations are closed.
  • by Red Rocket ( 473003 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:28PM (#7930579)

    That's why we should amend the Constitution to allow only people of, at least, basic intelligence to vote.

    This has already been tried []
    Since you apparently didn't know about this, then, by your own definition, maybe you wouldn't be qualified to cast your vote.
    Those who do not remember the past shall be condemned to repeat it.
  • Re:Arrogant SOB's (Score:2, Informative)

    by patches ( 141288 ) <patrick,pattison&gmail,com> on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:30PM (#7930605) Homepage
    Well I can tell you about the voting in the part of Florida where I live. It is touch screen, you sign in at the registration desk, sign by your name, and get a card much like an ATM card. You wait for a available touch screen, you insert your card, and it starts running through the offices and candidates. You select the candidate you want, and select the continue button. After it has run through all the candidates, it displays a list of all the offices up for grabs, and all the choices you made for each office. Then there are two buttons, one for goine back and changing your vote for a particular office, and one to cast the votes you selected. As soon as you select the cast the votes button it gives you the card back, which you then have to give to the guy standing by the door on the way out so they can reuse the cards....

    I didn't have a problem with it,and it seemed like it more or less validates in plain English what I voted for, and I get confirmation that I pressed the VOTE button as I wouldn't have been given the card back otherwise....

  • Re:STFU Eurofag! (Score:3, Informative)

    by netsharc ( 195805 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:34PM (#7930657)
    82 Million vs California's 35 Million.

    What's not scalable about how they do the voting? If you have more ballots to count, you just get more people to count it.
  • by chimpslice ( 580971 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @03:15PM (#7931120) Journal
    The above statement is not 100% accurate, but here's [] an excerpt from an article published November 12, 2001:

    Consider the differences found in two counties-Leon and Gadsden-separated by the Ochlockonee River and the two broadest extremes of how votes are counted. In both counties voters use a pencil to fill in ovals on the ballot.

    But if a voter in Leon County, which includes the state capital, Tallahassee, made a mistake on a ballot, the counting machine in the polling place automatically spit out the ballot back into the voter's hand. A second or and even a third chance was allowed. to vote properly.

    This voting system had an error rate of less than 1 percent.

    In Gadsden County, the only predominantly black Florida county, no second chance was given because officials said they couldn't afford counting machines in every polling place. The highest percentage of discarded ballots in any Florida county occurred here, with 12.4 percent of the ballots invalidated.
  • Vote for Ron! (Score:3, Informative)

    by smcv ( 529383 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @03:52PM (#7931600) Homepage
    The Students' Union here implements this to elect officers (there's an extra "candidate" called RON, for "Re-open Nominations"). If Ron wins (rarely happens), nominations for candidates have to be reopened.

    (People sometimes even campaign on Ron's behalf, when they realise the only candidate is someone who would do the job badly, and they want nominations reopened so they can stand for it themselves...)
  • Re:Budget (Score:3, Informative)

    by Zeinfeld ( 263942 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @04:30PM (#7932200) Homepage
    Although if you note the great?-grandparent post, you will see that the Machines are supposedly identical. Which means that there should be no variation.

    The machines were identical, the configuration was not. These are

    Pallister has done a bunch of research as has the civil rights commission. See my sig for details. The GOP flacks on slashdot have been making the standard ad-hominem attacks to try to avoid dealing with the substance of his claims.

    Note also that the guy the GOP dredged up to dispute the civil rights commission report is the same right wing crank that was caught peddling bogus statistics about gun safety recently.

  • Re:STFU Eurofag! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dirtside ( 91468 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @08:45PM (#7934663) Journal
    You should go here [] and read about the over 100 separate cases where electronic voting has had problems, and in many cases those problems led to election reversals. (There's links on the right side to the chapters of the book they wrote; chapter 2 has quite a number of examples in it.)

    The point is, it's not just Florida. Florida just got the attention in 2000 because the entire state's electoral votes were delivered to Bush instead of Gore due to voting hijinks (or so the theory goes). The handful of companies that supply the bulk of electronic voting machines for the U.S. have a terrible track record. Plus, the machines' inner workings are kept secret, meaning that there's absolutely no way for voters to be sure that the elections are being carried out fairly.

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly