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Election 2004

Touch screen complaints are rare

Published September 1, 2004

Touch screens passed the test.

Sixteen counties, including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco, used the electronic voting machines with few problems Tuesday. Although the machines had been used in several elections before, this year's primary was considered a crucial dry run for the Nov. 2 general election four years after the 2000 Florida election debacle.

"Basically, everything did what it was supposed to," said Marty Rogol, public information coordinator for the Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Office.

The machines were introduced in 2001, replacing punch card machines and their infamous chad. During the September 2002 gubernatorial primary, voters in Miami-Dade and Broward counties confronted long lines as poll workers struggled to turn on the machines.

But this year, poll workers were armed with increased training. It seems to have paid off.

Deb Cunningham, 44, equates the touch screens with progress.

"Easy as pie," she said as she left her South Tampa precinct. "It's been decades that we needed to change. It's better than it ever was before."

Voters in some Pinellas precincts reported getting incorrect ballots, but elections spokeswoman Nancy Whitlock called those isolated problems.

Even poll watchers - and there were many, stationed at hundreds of precincts around the state - said the primary was virtually trouble-free.

"This is exactly how it should be," said Lida Rodriguez-Tasseff, a Miami lawyer and member of the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, which pressed officials there for voting accountability.

Voters who called a hot line set up by the Election Protection Program reported a few problems: Some could not find their precincts because of poor signs, and some machines in a handful of Miami-Dade precincts didn't work. At a few precincts, election workers refused to let voters fill out provisional ballots, which allow votes to count once officials review the voter's eligibility.

Lawyers were dispatched to at least two precincts to work out the problems.

Courtenay Strickland, the voting rights project director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida, said her group will scrutinize everything.

"A lot of small problems can lead to huge disenfranchisement," Strickland said.

As precincts closed, Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson said he never expected any problems at the polls.

"Our equipment is the best on the market," Johnson said. "It performs well."

Staff writer David Karp and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

[Last modified August 31, 2004, 22:09:21]

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