In Miami, they’re starting to figure out that touch screen voting machines may not be the panacea that was hoped for after the 2000 election fiasco.
Touch screens cost more to purchase, more to operate, and more to maintain than optical scan machines, and they leave no paper trail – there is no way to independently audit the accuracy of the machines during an actual election.
Still, the news that Miami-Dade might dump their expensive and fairly new touch screens and replace them with optical scanners is something of a pleasant shock.
Miami-Dade is poised to be the first place in the nation to ditch the iVotronics paperless voting machines for paper-based balloting after the county’s top election supervisor on Friday issued a memo ”strongly recommending” the change.
County leaders would have to choose one of seven optical scanners offered by three different vendors, including ES&S — a process that could take seven months. The county would need 1,600 optical scanners, which cost as much as $6,000 each and take up to nine months to arrive.
Sola said they would have to spend $9.4 million to $12.3 million to equip the county’s 749 precincts with the new machines. But he expects they could recoup the purchase price in a few election cycles through savings in operating costs and that the transition would be relatively smooth because the county already uses a handful of optical scanners to count absentee ballots.
”In fact, based on the initial analysis, the county could save more than $13.21 million over five years,” Sola wrote.
News of Sola’s memo prompted U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, a longtime touch-screen critic, to urge Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood to study the accuracy of the voting machines in all touch-screen counties.
The move to ditch the iVotronics accelerated in April when elections chief Constance Kaplan resigned after her department found that human error led to hundreds of votes being tossed out in recent elections.
Days later, Burgess asked Sola to assess whether optical scanners, which count votes marked on ”bubble sheets,” would deliver more accurate results. Burgess also wanted information on how much a switch would cost and how much it might save in the long run.
After the 2000 election debacle, county officials went with what they considered the most sophisticated technology around — touch-screen voting machines. Miami-Dade bought 7,200 iVotronics, a paperless machine that stores votes on hard drives and discs.
In all, 16 of Florida’s 67 counties chose touch-screen machines, including Broward. Other counties with large urban centers, except Orlando’s Orange County, followed Miami-Dade’s lead, choosing ES&S.
But in the machines’ first major test, the September 2002 primary, Election Day was a disaster in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Complications with the machines prevented polls from opening on time, leading to the intervention of the governor.
The machines had relatively few glitches in later votes. But most recently, a coding error led to hundreds of ballots being thrown out in the March special referendum on slot machines. The same mistake was found in five other municipal elections, but Kaplan said the number of missing votes would not have affected outcomes.
In addition, the cost of the actual elections has escalated. There is about one election countywide each year and 30 or so municipal races. Sola’s memo said that previous punch-card countywide elections cost about $1.5 million — a price tag that has mushroomed to as much as $8 million with the iVotronics.
The county must replace the back-up batteries on the machines for about $1 million and the batteries on the cartridges used to program the machines for another $61,504. And, with an increase in registered voters, Sola said he expected the county would need to buy 1,000 more machines before 2008 for another $4 million.