Lawmaker: Crist to propose paper trail for votes


Published: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 30, 2007 at 11:59 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist will propose spending millions of dollars to ensure that Florida voting machines leave a paper trail in response to complaints about touch-screen balloting, an aide to U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler said Tuesday.

Wexler, D-Boca Raton, has been a leading critic of electronic voting machines that were touted as an answer to vote-counting problems that emerged during Florida's 2000 presidential recount.

The touch-screen machines, though, have been the focus of a contested Florida congressional race after they indicated about 18,000 Sarasota County voters failed to cast a ballot in the November 2006 contest.

Wexler has spoken frequently with Crist about the matter and will join the Republican governor when he announces the voting machine spending proposal Thursday in Palm Beach County, said Eric Johnson, the congressman's chief of staff.

"He's definitely taking a big, big step," Johnson said. "We do think it's a big deal."

Crist spokeswoman Erin Isaac declined to offer either a confirmation or denial.

"I'm not saying anything one way or the other," she said.

The governor has been releasing various parts of his budget proposal to the Legislature this week.

Johnson was unsure whether the counties would be given a choice or required to replace their touch-screen equipment with machines that leave a paper record. The only type currently certified in Florida that leave a paper trail are machines that scan paper ballots. The optical scanners are used in most Florida counties.

Florida outlawed punch card machines after ballots with partly punched-out hanging chads proved difficult to decipher during the 2000 recount. The national election was decided when President Bush, brother of then-Gov. Jeb Bush, won Florida by only 537 votes.

Katherine Harris, then Florida's secretary of state, presided over the recount and two years later was elected to Congress in the 13th District.

A Republican, she gave up the seat last year to mount an unsuccessful challenge to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. Another Republican, Vern Buchanan, won the seat by only 369 votes but the result is being contested by his opponent, Democrat Christine Jennings.

American Civil Liberties Union executive director Howard Simon said the state should upgrade touch-screen machines with paper trails instead of switching to optical scanners. That would protect the rights of disabled and language minority voters who rely on the electronic machines.

"There are systems out there that are the best of both worlds," Simon said.

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