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    A Times Editorial

    An encouraging start

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 7, 2002

    Tuesday's premiere of touch-screen voting in Hillsborough County wasn't flawless, but the problems appear easy enough to correct before this fall's general election.

    The machines, which operate like bank ATMs, did a fine job of capturing votes in the Plant City Commission election. The problem came when poll workers tried to download the votes into a laptop computer and transmit them to the elections office. Pam Iorio, the county elections supervisor, said she would make the necessary improvements to the equipment or communications lines before the September primary.

    Of course, it would have been a confidence boost had Hillsborough aced the election with this new and expensive technology. But it was a success anyway, on almost every front. The backup system of printed ballots worked, the vote counts were accurate and the winner was known 90 minutes after the polls closed. That's a better record than in many past elections where paper ballots were used. And other Florida counties, such as Pinellas, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach, that used touch screens for municipal elections this spring had a similar experience. The problems were small, easily corrected and, for the most part, caused by human error, not the machines.

    The Plant City election was a dry run to the much-bigger election cycle later this year. Elections officials plan to use the experience to review the adequacy of their training and backup procedures. It's an encouraging start with the technology. Machines break down and humans make mistakes; the issue is whether clerks at the polls are adequately trained to get the election back on track. This test has gone a way toward repairing the credibility of Florida's election system.

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