Hillsborough approves optical scan voting system

02/20/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Hillsborough County citizens have voted for the last time on touch screen voting machines.

Today, County Commissioners approved a $5.97-million contract to purchase voting machines from a new vendor, Premier Elections Solutions. The recommendation came today from Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson.

After years of controversy, Gov. Charlie Crist announced last year that he wanted the state’s 15 counties still using electronic voting machines to change to an optical scan style of voting with a veritable paper trail. The deadline is this July, but Johnson said the new system will be up and running for a Plant City Election in April.

Hillsborough County voters began using electronic voting machines in 2004. Those worked by placing a card into the machine with the ballot then shown on the screen. After the voter finished, the screen showed all of their choices, so one could verify they were correct.

Johnson said optical scan will obviously work differently.

Hillsborough Supervisors approved nearly $12-million for the touch screen machines in December 2001, per the endorsement by then Elections Supervisor Pam Iorio. But the lack of a paper trail, as well as concerns that such computers systems could easily be hacked led to a massive lack of faith in their reliability in Florida and across the country.

A comment a year before the 2004 election by the chief executive of one of the leading touch screen vendors, Walden O’Dell certainly didn’t help. O’Dell, who also worked for the Bush campaign, said he was committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president.

So when Crist announced in his Inaugural address last year that he was mandating that the state eliminate electronic voting machines, critics in Florida were thrilled.

Johnson and a committee reviewed four voting systems that were up for bid, including one from Becky Steele from the Tampa office of the ACLU.

Johnson said Premier Elections Solutions provides the capability to provide voter assist terminals for people with disabilities

But earlier in the day disabled advocate Sheryl Brown was concerned that she had no idea how accessible the new voting system would be.

But Barry Shalansky, who served on a committee reviewing the voting machine systems to determine how accessible they would be for the disabled, said Johnson’s staff did the best they could. Shalansky also serves on WMNF’s Board.

Commissioner Brian Blair, always a stickler to prevent wasted tax dollars, asked Johnson what happens now with all of the relatively new touch screen voting machines?

That $2.5-million from the state means the Secretary of State’s office will confiscate all of the equipment. That also significantly reduces the county’s costs for the new equipment, to just under $3.5-million.

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