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Pasco in clear on vote machine ruling

Because it already has audio capability on its voting machines, the county is not affected by a court ruling.

By Associated Press
Published January 16, 2004

JACKSONVILLE - Fifty-two Florida counties could be affected by a tentative federal court ruling requiring Duval County to provide the blind and disabled with voting machines that have an audio system, a state election official said Thursday.

Jennifer Nash, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's Office, said officials believe U.S. District Judge Wayne Alley's ruling will affect every county that uses optical scan voting machines, possibly costing them millions of dollars.

Pasco is among the 15 Florida counties that have touch screen voting systems which contain an audio system.

Many counties purchased new systems after the 2000 presidential election recount and the state's subsequent ban on punch card balloting.

Gov. Jeb Bush said Thursday he had not seen Alley's ruling.

"We are going to review it. I don't know what the judge has said and what our response will be," Bush said.

Alley said in a tentative ruling Wednesday that Duval County Supervisor of Elections John Stafford and the state were violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act by not providing machines that blind and disabled voters could use without assistance.

Optical scan machines require voters to read their ballot and mark their choices with a pencil.

Alley told the county and the state they have four months to get voting equipment with audio capability certified and have it ready by the August primary. If it can't be done with current machines, the county will have to buy new ones, the judge said.

Each side has 10 days to reply to his tentative ruling, but he indicated he would make it permanent.

Doug Baldridge, the lead attorney representing the American Association for People with Disabilities, said the ruling could have far-reaching implications.

"Ethically, legally and morally, it is the right thing to do," said Baldridge, whose Washington firm of Howrey, Simon, Arnold & White represented the voters without charge.

"Other counties in the exact same situation and same equipment would be silly to not go ahead and be accessible by August," said Jim Dickson, vice president of governmental affairs for the disability group. "We'll sue them if they don't."

Dick Carlberg, Duval County's assistant elections supervisor, said the county would have to come up with about $1-million if the judge orders the county to place a touch screen system in all 285 precincts. Federal law requires that by 2006.

Once the judge issues his final ruling, Duval County will decide whether to appeal.

If the judge orders the county to put touch screens in every precinct, the county will likely appeal.

If he orders a limited number of machines, an appeal is unlikely, Carlberg said.

[Last modified January 16, 2004, 01:33:00]

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