County in legal spat over e-voting machine purchase

The refusal to purchase specialized voting machines that comply with handicap-access laws has put a Florida county in the cross hairs of the state’s attorney general and handicap-rights groups.

On June 29, the Volusia County Council voted 4-3 against authorizing the purchase of 210 touch-screen systems from Diebold Election Systems. According to Florida state law, all counties were obliged to have at least one state-certified touch-screen machine in place by July 1. The Diebold systems meet the handicap-access requirement because they also house devices that enable blind voters to receive verbal prompts to help them vote.

The council declined to purchase the machines because they don’t generate a paper receipt. The majority of the council is joined by critics who maintain that the touch-screen systems can be rigged for political advantage.

The National Federation of the Blind and others filed suit against the county this week in Orlando Federal District Court.

“This does put Volusia County in a very difficult position,” said a county government spokesman. The four-person majority was “not comfortable with the Diebold system, and now we’ve been sued, and we’ll defend that action,” the spokesman said.

He said the council would prefer to buy a hybrid optical-scan system called AutoMark, which is made by Vogue Election Systems LLC in Glen Ellyn, Ill. AutoMark has an audio component to enable the blind to vote, but the system hasn’t been certified by Florida.

None of the four council members who voted down the purchase responded to a request for comment.

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist issued a letter dated June 30 to council Chairman Frank Bruno, stating that the refusal could subject the county to liability for a civil rights violation.

A Vote for Diebold

Ann McFall, the county supervisor of elections, is urging the purchase of the Diebold machines. She said she directed her attorney to ask a federal judge in Orlando to either force the county to buy them or allow the next election, which is scheduled for Oct. 11, to take place without them.

A spokesman for McKinney, Texas-based Diebold said the touch-screen machines have been used for 20 years and are completely reliable. In addition, the Diebold AccuVote-TS and TSX machines provide an internal paper receipt and can generate a hard copy of every vote cast via printer, he said.

Volusia County isn’t alone in refusing to comply with the July 1 deadline. By emphasizing just touch-screen technology, the state has taken a “heavy-handed approach” to enforcing handicap voting accessibility, said Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections in Leon County, which uses optical scan devices. He wants the paper trail and is holding out for certification of the AutoMark systems. “Voters demand that we can account for every vote 100 percent accurately,” Sancho said. “And my goal is to make sure the votes are counted as intended.”

Related links:

Critics call for e-voting paper trail

Maryland voters file petition against e-voting system

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