Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Miami-Dade considers tossing its touch-screen voting system

This story reminds me of the early days of office computerization. Every mid- to top-level manager in the corporate world wasted untold quantities of cash in the rush to "computerize the office." These same managers couldn't tell a computer from a slot machine. Instead of looking at their needs to determine if computers might be useful, they simply made the presumption. So everyone got a nice new computer on the desk, where it sat among the photos of the Loved Ones.

Elected officials are no more knowledgeable than corporate managers, and unfortunately they are sometimes a great deal less. If you have a bridge to sell, start here.

According to Naoki Schwartz of the Miami Herald,

Three years after spending $24.5 million to install a controversial touch-screen voting system, Miami-Dade County elections officials have been asked to study scrapping the system in favor of paper-based balloting.

The request from County Manager George Burgess follows the recent resignation of Elections Supervisor Constance Kaplan and the revelation that hundreds of votes in recent elections hadn't been counted.

County officials say the machines have more than tripled Election Day costs.

"Sometimes lessons are expensive," said County Commissioner Katy Sorenson, who said she will wait for the manager's report before weighing in on the machines.

That will be the report she uses to cover her backside.

After the 2000 presidential election debacle, officials wanted "the best, most sophisticated technology," Sorenson recalled. At the time that meant buying 7,200 iVotronics, a paperless machine that stores votes on hard drives and discs -- despite concerns that there were no paper receipts.

In Broward County, Mayor Kristin Jacobs said she regrets that the county also chose iVotronics over optical scan machines.

"I understand that we've invested a lot of money in the electronic machines, but I would be more comfortable with optical scan because it gives you the ease of computerization and a paper trail," she said. "Hindsight is 20-20. In retrospect I probably would have gone with optical scan but we're beyond that now, and we've had minimal problems in Broward."

Oh, yes. Broward County has been a paragon.

Amid the problems, the cost of the actual elections -- about one countywide and 30 or so municipal races per year -- has increased. Sola said the Nov. 2 countywide election cost $6.6 million because of increased labor costs to program the machines, set up the equipment and print backup ballots. He said previous punchcard elections ran from $1 million to $2 million.

Those familiar with optical scanners, already used to count absentee ballots, estimate that it would cost about $8 million to equip the county's 749 precincts with them.

In a statement, ES&S officials [maker of the iVotronics machines] said they are very proud of the work they have done "to greatly enhance the county's voting process."


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