Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Florida Sets Touch-Screen Recounts Rule

By Brendan Farrington, The Associated Press, October 15, 2004


The state set a court-ordered rule for recounting touch-screen ballots in close elections Friday, but voter-rights groups complained the changes fell far short of what is needed to ensure a fair vote.

In cases where a manual recount is required, the rule calls on county elections supervisors to review each electronic ballot image to see if the number of so-called undervotes, those on which no candidate was chosen, matches the undervote totals given by the machine.

If the numbers do not match up, the machines will be checked for problems. If the discrepancy remains, elections officials will rely on the original machine count.

State law requires a manual recount if the election is decided by less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the vote, as it was in the 2000 contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

Secretary of State Glenda Hood had issued a rule barring manual recounts for touch-screen votes, but a judge in August ruled the manual-recount law applies no matter what voting technology is used.

Hood's office released the new recount rules late Friday, 18 days before the Nov. 2 presidential election. Voter activists complained that their proposal was ignored.

"It seems like every time they have a decision to make, somehow they find a way not to come down on the side of voters or the side of protecting the right to vote," said Howard Simon, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida.

More than half of Florida's 9.8 million registered voters are in the 15 counties that use touch-screen machines. The rest use optical scan ballots.

A coalition including the ACLU, Florida Common Cause, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the American Way Foundation wanted touch-screen voters to have the option of using a paper ballot. They also wanted to create a process to make sure all votes cast match the number of people who voted, and to have a federal court oversee a recount if one were necessary.

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