Sept. 25, 2002
Florida suffered a lot of bad national publicity about the 2000
election, with weeks of television coverage of hanging chads,
undervotes and overvotes. So 15 Florida counties bought new modern
computerized touch-screen voting machines to replace the butterfly
punch-card machines, while 26 counties chose upgraded paper-ballot
Miami-Dade County spent $24.5 million to buy 7,250 machines and
Broward County spent $17.2 million to buy 5,200. The model they bought
has the oh-so-sophisticated name "iVotronic."
But Florida learned some costly lessons. Technology can't solve
the problem of election frauds and mistakes, and the Democrats can't
seem to run an election.
Janet Reno charged that thousands of votes were not counted in
Miami-Dade and Broward counties in the primary on September 10. She
hoped to uncover enough uncounted votes to overcome the 8,100-vote
margin by which she was defeated by Bill McBride.
Reno claimed that the new touch-screen voting machines used in
Miami-Dade and Broward counties cost her the Democratic nomination for
Governor to run against incumbent Jeb Bush. Since the Democrats
control both those counties and the irregularities were so numerous,
one can't help but wonder if the Democrats just didn't want Janet Reno
to be their nominee.
Reno asserted that the touch-screen machines suffered from a
buildup of smudges that created inaccuracies, some voters saw the wrong
candidate's name light up when they touched the screen, and many
machines did not properly tally the votes. In a couple of dozen
precincts, computer cartridges failed to retrieve the cumulative
results and the data had to be manually retrieved.
Reno charged that some votes were mysteriously uncounted, and she
has some evidence. Reno is challenging 81 precincts in Miami-Dade
where the Democratic overall turnout rate was less than 6 percent, and
in Broward where 11 precincts reported turnout below 5 percent.
Broward has 5 precincts where 498 Democrats are registered but no
Democratic ballots were cast. Some machines showed more than the
typical percentage of ballots with non-votes for Governor.
In Broward precinct 5K, 1039 voters are registered but only 56
votes were tallied. The official count in Precinct 32X shows no votes,
although 832 people are registered.
In Miami-Dade, 32 precincts reported no Democratic ballots cast
despite more than 12,000 Democrats registered there, but 7 precincts
reported Democratic turnouts of more than 100 percent.
The task is to go back and check the counters on the voting
machines. Miami-Dade's supervisor of elections is starting to check
the computer logs of all 7,250 machines.
However, Miami-Dade's machines are stacked helter-skelter in a
warehouse, requiring a one-by-one search. Many machines no longer have
external tags or labels with serial numbers, so the cover of each
machine will have to be laboriously removed to find the serial number
Reno is also collecting affidavits from voters who either had
trouble voting or who were turned away from polls that opened late. It
took extra time to program the machines in Miami-Dade because the
lengthy ballot came in three languages: English, Spanish and Creole.
The modern touch-screen voting machines were first used last
summer in South Florida in a local election for mayor and city council.
After that election, we heard all the same complaints about undervotes
and the inability of poll workers and voters to follow instructions.
Two candidates claimed they were cheated out of victory by
malfunctioning voting machines, and that there were just as many
undervotes with the new touch-screen machines as with the old punch-
card machines. One close race was decided by only 4 votes, but had 78
Some voters complained that the touch-screen machines selected the
wrong candidates. In August, national voting machine expert Rebecca
Mercuri demonstrated how it's possible that a voter using these new
voting machines could touch two candidates' names at once and register
a vote for a third candidate.
Some claim the South Florida problems were the result of operator
error, not mechanical malfunction. There were too few poll workers,
inadequate training of poll workers, and failure to provide checklists
for the operation. Some poll workers quit because they were
intimidated and frustrated by the new machines.
The problem in 2000 wasn't the punch-card ballots anyway. I voted
a punch-card ballot in November 2000 and didn't have any problem with
it, and the sign on the ballot box in my precinct clearly told voters
to "Remove your hanging chads."
We should not use any voting machines unless they print out a
receipt confirming that the machine registered your vote for the
candidates you chose. If the machine doesn't do that, the technology
is subject to all kinds of fraud, and we should junk the voting
machines altogether and go back to paper ballots.