As the white-hot presidential contest heats up in this battleground state, a newly released national voting equipment study gives Florida passing marks — except for one glaring exception. Aside from using paper ballots, the ability to recount those ballots is the single most important means to ensure a fair election, many experts say, and Florida falls flat. At stake are the ballots of 11.4 million Florida voters and 29 electoral votes, more than enough to decide a tight election. After all, the 326-page report written by nonprofit advocacy groups Common Cause and the Verified Voting Foundation, as well as Rutgers Law School’s Constitutional Litigation Clinic, points out that George W. Bush won Florida in 2000 by a mere 537 votes. Florida’s myriad voting systems are ranked “generally good” by the report — the rough equivalent of a “C” — in part because the state mandates the use of paper ballots for everyone except some disabled voters. Martin County’s touch screen equipment and St. Lucie and Indian River county’s optical scan machines all produce paper ballots, officials confirmed. But Florida’s rules for tracking those paper ballots after an election come up short, the report concluded, and that’s key, given the fact that virtually all elections systems have demonstrated some type of technological failure. “We all know computers crash,” said Susannah Goodman, director of Common Cause’s Voter Integrity Campaign. “Voting machines are no different.”
For instance, the March Wellington election was among troubling incidents cited by the report. There, a software system implicated in four problems in as many years — including double-counting of more than 10,000 votes in 2008 in Indian River County — miscounted votes in the mayoral and two city council races. Months before the county agreed to buy it, security experts blasted an earlier version of Sequoia Voting Systems’ equipment, now operating as Dominion Voting Systems, as riddled with bugs that jeopardized votes.
Local election officials say Martin, St. Lucie counties have not experienced technology mishaps cited in the report, and Indian River has taken steps to avoid the 2008 equipment glitch that produced a skewed vote count. Indian River Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan said in hindsight, because it was the first time the county was using their new optical scan equipment — identical to what Palm Beach County uses — her former boss Kay Clem should have pretested the system. “But you think that it’s approved by the state and it goes through rigorous testing,” Swan said, “that you assume that it’s going to operate the way you think it is.”