Cliff Ahead: Florida SoS, Supervisors Worry About Voting Machines


[Image courtesy of tenthamendmentcenter]

Yesterday, I wrote about the continued uncertainties at the U.S. Election Assistance Commission – and if there was an undercurrent of frustration there, it’s because the inaction at (and about) the EAC is putting election officials in increasing peril. Florida is the latest stop on the “Don’t Stop (Worrying About Tomorrow)” tour. FlaglerLive has the story:

Decade-old voting equipment is quickly aging in nearly half the state’s counties, and there has been a struggle at the local level to secure money to cover the replacement costs.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner said he will meet next month with local supervisors of election in Orlando to determine which counties are most in need of new equipment before the 2016 elections.

“It’s kind of one of those things that you don’t think about until something happens,” Detzner said this week. “We know we need to do something.”

Detzner estimated that about 30 counties might need new equipment or upgrades…

One encouraging sign is that state and local officials – who haven’t always been on the same page – are looking to cooperate on voting technology:

“Some of the equipment is old, some as old as 10 years old,” Detzner said. “And we’ll be evaluating that, working with the supervisors and their local county commission to make sure they get funded in preparation for 2016.”

The president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections said most computer technology is reaching obsolescence at a decade, including programs simply designed to count ballots.

Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland, the association president, expects Detzner to come out of the meeting next month with a list of counties that are most at risk of running elections that could fail without new equipment.

“He has the authority to decertify equipment,” Holland said. “He can easily tell the county commissions, ‘Listen this equipment is not worthy of going forward.’ Then the county supervisors have the ability to go to their county commissioners and say ‘It’s not a luxury but a necessity.’ “

This would be the latest upgrade for Florida, which first replaced punchcards with new (often touchscreen) technology after the 2000 election but then moved again to get paper ballots across most of the state after problems and concerns with the new equipment emerged in 2004 and 2006:

Most Florida counties now use optical-scan technology, where voters mark paper ballot choices by filling in bubbles or connecting arrows before sliding the paper through electronic tabulators.

Tabulators at each precinct tally those votes and, depending upon the equipment, can quickly transmit the results from the precinct to a supervisor’s headquarters after the polls are closed.

It’s the tabulators, which individually cost about $4,000, that are most in need of being replaced with the latest technology, Holland said. Updating tabulators also requires new software.

Election offices are relying increasingly on other new technology like e-pollbooks to improve the voting experience, but Supervisor Holland recognizes the problems that balky voting technology can create:

“You can get through an election without the latest technology, but the problem is you then have a competence factor,” Holland said. “The voter starts asking, ‘Why couldn’t I put my ballot in the machine? What are they going to do with my ballot if they couldn’t tabulate it the (polling) location?’ Those issues erode confidence in an election. That’s why you don’t want go to the point where you’re equipment is faulty.”

Florida’s concerns are the local manifestation of the “impending crisis” in voting technology mentioned in the PCEA report; here’s hoping that officials across Florida – and maybe just maybe on Capitol Hill – can pull together to address these challenges before the whole system goes over the cliff.

Stay tuned …

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