WASHINGTON – Changes have been made in the country's voting systems in the three years since the Florida presidential recount,but it's still possible for Americans to see a repeat of 2000 come November,according to a report released Thursday.
“It is a possibility that you could still have a problem in 2004 if the election is close,” said Kimbell Brace,president of Election Data Services,at a press conference at the National Press Club. “As long as people win big and win by large margins,then everyone isn't concerned with making sure that every ballot is counted correctly.”
Election Data Services' report,“2004 Voting Equipment Study,” found some progress toward the elimination of punch card voting systems. EDS is a consulting firm that specializes in election data.
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 called for all paper,punch card and lever machines to be replaced by 2006.
HAVA was enacted in the wake of problems with punch card voting in the 2000 presidential election. The law authorizes Congress to provide $3.86 billion federal to states for reforms.
The 307 counties expected to use punch cards for the November general election is down from the 572 counties that used punch cards in November 2000,the report says. Brace said that the those numbers will not significantly change between now and the election because there's not enough time left for educating voters and poll workers or for test runs.
“We are seeing a bunch of changes,but probably not as much as we anticipated,” Brace said. He said that “we've had a slow down” in changes since 2002.
The study,which includes information on voting system changes as of Feb. 9,found that states with the largest number of counties planning to use punch cards in 2004 are Illinois,Missouri,Ohio,Tennessee and Utah.
The 270 counties expected to use lever machines in 2004,which will be weeded out along with punch cards,is down 38 percent since 2000,the report says.
The legislation was delayed “immensely” because Congress and the White House were unable to agree on election commissioners and funds. This caused local governments to stall because reimbursements weren't immediately available,Brace said.
In addition,HAVA was delayed after a Johns Hopkins University study released last summer raised concerns that touch-screen voting machines could be tampered with or hacked into.
Brace also stressed that no voting system has been deemed foolproof,saying,“ Every voting system has its plusses and minuses.”
“The job of the election administrator is to make sure that those minuses don't come back to haunt them,” he said. “That's why,four years ago,everyone sat around wondering who was president of the United States.”
Though some think that electronic systems are the answer to punch card problems,most electronic systems do not provide paper receipts that voters can verify and election administrators could use to finalize a contested race,the study says.
In Tuesday's Virginia Democratic primary,election officials in Fairfax County,Va.,said their touch-screen machines worked well. In November,when the machines were used for the first time,it took 21 hours to count local election results.
Counting votes from 225 precincts took so long because election workers sent results via modem at the same time,which overloaded the central computer. Two months of testing,fixes from the manufacturer and extra technicians on duty helped last week's primary avoid problems,said Margaret Luca,secretary of the county electoral board.
“It was great,” Luca said in a phone interview Thursday. “Everything went very smoothly.”
Predictions for the 2004 election show that 46 percent of U.S. counties plan to use optical scans,followed by 21 percent with electronic equipment. Punch cards and paper ballots will each be used in 10 percent of counties,the report says.