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    Letters to the Editors

    Experience backs a touch screen voting system

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 6, 2001


    I was a resident of Mount Laurel, N.J. (a town of 138,000) in 1995. We had used Shoup voting machines for many years but felt it was time to update. So the committee looked into many newer systems.

    It was decided to test the Sequoia Pacific Voting Equipment system, first in our School Board election and then in our fire district election. We leased the machines for those elections. The county Election Board maintained surveillance over our success or failure. The machines worked so well (no errors in either election) that it was decided to use them in the primary election that followed. Again, the results were flawless and quick.

    The county board was so pleased that we used the touch screen system in the 1996 general election in Burlington County and decided to purchase the machines. A recommendation was made to the state board to go statewide with this technology.

    I have moved to Pinellas County since then, so I don't know how the statewide purchase has progressed. But as a voter who has used these machines, I throughly endorse them.

    Your description of them in your Feb. 25 edition (Future of voting is here -- in tiny Burke County) was right on the mark. They are easy to use, mistake-free and verifiable. What more could you ask?

    A phased lease/purchase agreement could be negotiated with the manufacturer to supply every county in Florida in time for the next general election.
    -- Claude W. Ely, St. Petersburg

    Punch card voting can be fixed

    Ever since that ill-fated election last fall, we have been regaled with all manner of proposals for replacing the punch card balloting system with something else. From all we've heard and read, it would seem that almost anything else would be preferable to those silly punch cards.

    While I would agree that we need to improve upon our system of elections (who wouldn't), I think it is a mistake to go running off to wherever they design and build voting machines with a big bag full of money for a bunch of new ones.

    While the current punch card system is not perfect, neither are any of the other systems, and putting any of them under the same microscopic scrutiny as we have given the punch cards will reveal some flaws. It seems to me that, if we can fix the problems with the punch cards and avoid the cost and confusion that would result from a wholesale change to a different system, we should do so.

    It's important to recognize that properly voted punch cards are able to be read quickly and accurately by a completely dispassionate and objective machine, which has no party affiliation or preconceived notion. This is an important attribute that should not be ignored. It is also quite true that punch cards do not lend themselves well to manual recounts, but they were designed to be counted by machines, not by hand. We should, therefore, consider how we might ensure that the cards are voted correctly the first time.

    How can this be accomplished? Let's consider the two most troublesome of punch card problems -- the overvotes and the undervotes. Both could be eliminated, I believe, by the presence of a small, inexpensive card-check machine at each polling place. This machine would be designed to do just one thing -- detect and signal (with a bell, a red light, whatever) an overvote or undervote. Sliding your punch card into a slot in the machine just before putting it in the ballot box would let you know if you had made either of these mistakes. If you had, a poll worker would take the spoiled ballot from you, destroy it and give you a fresh one.

    But how about what we might call "intentional" undervotes? There are a certain number of people who prefer not to vote at all in some races but who want their voice heard on other matters, such as ballot initiatives. We could accommodate such voters by adding a "No Vote" box in each grouping of candidates. A punched out chad in this box would tell the world that the voter intended it that way and chose to be "disenfranchised" in that particular election.

    It is quite possible that punch cards have been so maligned and discredited that nothing else but a completely new system will do. If that's the case, then no amount of problem analysis or suitable remedy will salvage or redeem them. But if we are willing to fix the system rather than replace it, I would suggest that there are ways to do so.
    Clark T. Rollins, Tarpon Springs

    Look at voting online

    Re: New voting machines.

    We don't need to reinvent the wheel. The technology is already available if we build the electronic linkage. Think outside of the box for a moment. The Florida driver's license and Florida identification card could be used as away to vote on the Internet. Consider setting up a Web site for voting. You log on by entering your Florida driver's license (or Florida identification card) number and a password. Your driver's license contains your current address, so the computer knows your precinct. What needs to be added is your political party registration, and, bingo, we have a match.

    For those who do not have access to a personal computer, we could make computers available at schools and libraries. You could still have polling places to manually handle the small percentage of voters who wouldn't vote by PCs from their homes or schools or libraries. People who vote are true patriots. Don't underestimate them. Neighbors who have PCs will help ones who do not. Seniors who live in condominiums would be assisted by their condominium associations. The same would be true for seniors living in assisted care facilities. Voter turnout would be greater because access to registered voters would be greatly enhanced.

    Voting online would eliminate exit polls and efforts to influence the outcome of the election. Voting online would not have to occur all on one day and this would also increase voter turnout. It would also eliminate absentee ballots. Voter fraud would be reduced because a person could only vote once and then the computer would automatically lock you out. In addition, anyone who showed up at a polling place would now have a picture voter's registration card (Florida driver's license or Florida identification card).

    I am sure that federal grants would be available to help defray the cost. What a great opportunity to turn the disgrace of our last election into a triumph.
    -- A. Michael Mack, Largo

    Beware of losing control

    Re: Future of voting is here -- in tiny Burke County, Feb. 25.

    As the recent owner and president of a computer software company, I felt compelled to speak up about your article covering the touch screen voting machines.

    There is no doubt that most people would find the touch screen method decidedly easier to use and more convenient than punch cards. Unfortunately, it carries with it a whole new set of far more serious problems involving security, fraud and abuse.

    I know from programming experience that anything done on a computer can be manipulated to a desired outcome and that coverup of these actions is relatively easy. Therefore, we are taking all of the fail-safe devices, such as hand-counting of ballots, out of the equation and leaving the entire process to a handful of analysts who have experience with the computer program. This is a huge loss of control.

    What is to stop people from voting more than once? Without the use of security cameras or other violations of privacy, what is to stop people from registering their vote, resetting and voting again? If the system were to require a personal identification number or unique identifier in order to proceed, then we have lost our voting anonymity.

    There are no ways to reconcile the problems inherent in using today's technology without sacrificing the basic rights provided us in the Constitution. We need to maintain some type of paper trail that allows everyone to monitor and re-check the results. Putting our trust into the hands of a few software geeks leaves the door wide open for corruption and leaves me feeling very uneasy.

    I have used and sold optical scanning technology. It is still used in our school systems for scoring test results. With the exception of paper jams, it is very reliable, secure, and most important, provides verifiable proof on paper. This system gets my vote!
    -- Warren Austin, Clearwater

    Lottery has a system that works

    Re: Voters may be stuck with punch cards for now, Feb. 17.

    This story raised the issue of voter education in the search to remedy the election punch card debacle. State Sen. Jim Sebesta was quoted as saying there was virtually no training for the voters in the use of punch cards, and that 98 percent of the problems were voter-related.

    I'm probably missing something here, but let's examine a weekly exercise that is not at all fraught with chad. I've noticed that when I take my lotto card down to the local grocery, there are people (voters) of every race, age and creed lined up to vote -- excuse me, gamble. They have diligently (me to) given great care to choose a winner before handing the card to someone to process it. At midnight, two times each week, a winner is declared. There never has been, to my knowledge, a recount.

    If a state can buy the technology to conduct a ritual on the magnitude that gambling has become in this state, why in chad's name can't we vote with such ease?
    -- Randall Small, Holiday

    Poll workers trained to give answers

    Re: Polling place problems, letter, Feb. 21.

    As a poll worker I want to respond to the letter writer. I don't know what precinct she votes in, but all the poll workers must attend a class on how to respond to the voters questions.

    She asked how she could find out whom to call to see why her name was not listed. The clerk of that precinct is the one who calls after the clerk has first made an attempt to double check to see if the voter's name is indeed missing from the rolls.

    Maybe the letter writer should come into one of the election board's poll worker training sessions to see how well we are trained to answer all questions.
    -- Katherine Jacobs, Largo

    More problems at the polls

    Re: Polling place problems, letter.

    Perhaps the polling place workers need a little more instruction on what their job is. When I went to vote in the last election, after checking my registration card, the worker pointed to a line where I was to sign my name. Just as I was about to start signing, I discovered that someone else had signed his name on my line. I pointed this out to the worker, and she said, "Oh,just sign up here (four lines above where I was supposed to sign). Someone signed on the wrong line."

    In other words, three people had signed on the wrong line! I signed where she pointed out to me, but I drew an arrow from my signature down to where my name was printed. I sure hope my vote was counted!
    -- Gertrude M. McWilliams, Seminole

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