By Frances Kerry
MIAMI (Reuters) – A federal judge ruled on Monday that Florida’s elections division did not need to create a paper trail for the controversial touchscreen voting systems that will be used by about half the state’s voters in next week’s presidential election.
U.S. District Judge James Cohn dismissed a case brought by Florida Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler and others, who argued that the touchscreen voting systems — which are like bank automated teller machines — would cause problems because they do not provide a paper record that could be used in a recount.
In the last presidential election in 2000, a voting debacle in Florida delayed the result for five weeks during a protracted legal battle between George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore. This year the race between Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry is again too close to call in Florida.
Touchscreen systems were introduced in 15 of Florida’s 67 counties — and will be used by about half the state’s voters.
Although he ruled against Wexler, Judge Cohn noted that «the preferable voting system would include a paper printout review by the voter to ensure it contains his or her selections» that could be used in case of a recount.
He said «this court’s authority in this case is not to choose the preferable method of casting a ballot, but to determine whether the current procedures and standards comport with equal protection.»
The judge concluded that Wexler and the two other plaintiffs had failed to prove there was a nonuniform, differential standard for conducting manual recounts in counties using the touchscreen systems.
Wexler said he planned to appeal against the ruling.
Defenders of the touchscreen voting systems, which have also been challenged in other states, say they make it impossible to «overvote» because they will not accept a vote for more than one candidate. They also make it harder to «undervote,» because they remind people if they have not cast a vote for a candidate.
Wexler had sued Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, who is responsible for elections, and Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore.
They argued that the inability of the voting machines used in 15 counties to conduct a manual recount were a violation of the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution because they differed from the other 52 Florida counties’ optical scan systems that do allow a manual recount.
By Frances Kerry