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Latest Florida Turmoil Holds Some Lessons for Other Places Debuting New Electronic Systems
By Aron Goetzl
September 19, 2002 

Latest Florida Turmoil Holds Some Lessons for Other Places Debuting New Electronic Systems By Aron Goetzl

Florida jurisdictions are not the only ones switching to cutting-edge electronic machines during the 2002 elections. Atlanta, Houston, and Oakland are some of the other high-profile places that will employ new voting systems this fall.

Though they have not necessarily shared similar experiences in their respective implementations, many of those localities have at least one thing in common: they have been closely following the trials and tribulations of Floridas counties since the Sept. 10 primary.

The Florida story broke right in the middle of when we were training our poll workers, said Scott Konopasek, elections manger for Snohomish County, which became the first Washington State jurisdiction to use touch-screen machines this weeks primary. We actually tweaked a couple of things. We picked up a few lessons.

In response to Floridas troubles, officials distributed a letter from the county auditor to each polling place on the morning of Election Day that offered encouragement to poll workers in their administration of the new $5 million technology from Sequoia Voting Systems.

We knew that our poll workers were a little nervous, Konopasek said. They didnt want to be characterized like the ones in Florida have been.

Officials in Louisiana, which invested more than $3 million this year in Election Systems & Software touch-screens for in-person absentee voting starting this fall, reviewed its preparation efforts following the Florida primary, said state elections director Keith Edmonston.

It made us kind of downshift and do a double-check and triple-check, Edmonston said. We found that we had already addressed a lot of problems that theyre talking about [in Florida]. We just had to make sure.

Watching local and state election officials in Florida take heat for machine and poll worker failures has state officials even more on edge before the system debuts next week in some parishes.

The anxietys gotten a lot tighter, especially knowing that we have the same machines that they have [in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, two trouble spots last week], Edmonston said. I dont see us having those problems right now, but I might be wrong next week.

In Hinds County (Jackson, Miss.), which will become the first jurisdiction in the nation to use wireless voting machines from Advanced Voting Solutions, officials will now emphasize poll worker training even more before November.

It appears that it was a lack of poll worker training down in Florida, said Connie Cochran, chairwoman of the countys election commission. That definitely put a renewed focus on our training. We have added some additional days of training.

Still, Cochran remains confident in her countys decision to switch to a new voting system.

As with any voting machines, even our old ones, there are going to be glitches, but we feel as though were doing what we need to do to make it work, Cochran said.

Georgia officials express similar sentiments as they continue to prepare for the largest implementation of touch-screen technology in U.S. history. All 159 counties in the Peach State will use a $54 million Diebold system in November. The possible negative consequences of such a massive undertaking, which was made perfectly clear in south Florida last week, has not been lost on local officials and media in Georgia.

Thats kind of all Ive been talking about these last 10 days, joked Chris Riggall, spokesman for Secretary of State Cathy Cox.

Riggalls response is meant to allay any fears that Georgia might be another Florida: its different here.

We do think there is a dramatic difference between the Florida model and the Georgia model, Riggall said. Were going down the road of total uniformity. We think the advantages of uniformity are great.

One key distinction that Riggall pointed to is responsibility for training poll workers. In Florida, county officials conduct the training; in Georgia, though, state officials in partnership with Diebold officials will instruct poll workers how to handle the new machines.

Were all in the same boat together, Riggall said of state and local officials. Were going to be successful because the state and counties are working in concert.

Some local officials viewed the heightened attention given to new voting systems after the latest Florida turmoil as a potential to boon to their counties education efforts.

Its raised public awareness of [our new system] so it will help get the word out, said David Beirne, spokesman for Harris County (Houston, Texas) Clerk Beverly Kaufman. The jurisdiction will use new e-slate machines in November.

Added Cochran, People are aware and paying close attention. There will definitely be eyes on Hinds County this November.

But those eyes might be more interested in failure, not success, as was the case this week in Snohomish County.

We certainly came under a lot more scrutiny from the media because of what happened in Florida, Konopasek said. But when it didnt happen here, they didnt write anything.

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