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<nettime> Florida Touch-Screen Voting Machines Display Pro-Bush Bias
Soenke Zehle on Thu, 28 Oct 2004 18:24:19 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Florida Touch-Screen Voting Machines Display Pro-Bush Bias

Who would have thought of that? Florida may once again make or break the 
presidency. Says Greg Palast, that is, sz


Before one vote was cast in early voting this week in Florida, the new 
touch-screen computer voting machines of Florida started out with a 
several-thousand vote lead for George W. Bush.  That is, the mechanics of 
the new digital democracy boxes "spoil" votes at a predictably high rate 
in African-American precincts, effectively voiding enough votes cast for 
John Kerry to in a tight race, keep the White House safe from the will of 
the voters.

Excerpted from the current (November) issue of Harper's Magazine by Greg 

To understand the fiasco in progress in Florida, we need to revisit the 
2000 model, starting with a lesson from Dick Carlberg, acting elections 
supervisor in Duval County until this week. "Some voters are strange," 
Carlberg told me recently. He was attempting to explain why, in the last 
presidential election, five thousand Duvalians trudged to the polls and, 
having arrived there, voted for no one for president. Carlberg did concede 
that, after he ran these punch cards through the counting machines a 
second time, some partly punched holes shook loose, gaining Al Gore 160 
votes or so, Bush roughly 80.

"So, if you ran the 'blank' ballots through a few more times, we'd have a 
different president," I noted.  Carlberg, a Republican, answered with a 

So it was throughout the state - in certain precincts, at least.  In 
Jacksonville, for example, in Duval precincts 7 through 10, nearly one in 
five ballots, or 11,200 votes in all, went uncounted, rejected as either 
an 'under-vote' (a blank ballot) or 'over-vote' (a ballot with extra 
markings). In those precincts, 72 percent of the residents are 
African-American; ballots that did make the count went four to one for Al 
Gore. All in all, a staggering 179,855 votes were "spoiled" (i.e., cast 
but not counted) in the 2000 election in Florida. Demographers from the 
U.S. Civil Rights Commission matched the ballots with census stats and 
estimated that 54 percent of all the under- and over-voted ballots had 
been cast by blacks, for whom the likelihood of having a vote discarded 
exceeded that of a white voter by 900 percent.

Votes don't "spoil" because they are left out of the fridge.  Vote 
spoilage, at root, is a class problem.  Just as poor and minority 
districts wind up with shoddy schools and shoddy hospitals, they are stuck 
with shoddy ballot machines.  In Gadsden, the only black-majority county 
in Florida, one in eight votes spoiled in 2000, the worst countywide 
record in the state. Next door in Leon County (Tallahassee), which used 
the same paper ballot, the mostly white, wealthier county lost almost no 
votes.  The difference was that in mostly-white Leon, each voting booth 
was equipped with its own optical scanner, with which voters could check 
their own ballots. In the black county, absent such "second-chance" 
equipment, any error would void a vote.

The best solution for vote spoilage, whether from blank ballots or from 
hanging chads, is Leon County's: paper ballots, together with scanners in 
the voting booths. In fact, this is precisely what Governor Bush's own 
experts recommended in 2001 for the entire state.  His Select Task Force 
on Elections Procedures, appointed by the Governor to soothe public 
distrust after the 2000 race, chose paper ballots with scanners over the 
trendier option -- the touch-screen computer.

Although the computer rigs cost eight times as much as paper with 
scanners, they result in many more spoiled votes.  In this year's 
presidential primary in Florida, the computers had a spoilage rate of more 
than 1 percent, as compared to one-tenth of a percent for the 
double-checked paper ballots.

Apparently some Bush boosters were not keen on a fix so inexpensive and 
effective. In particular, Sandra Mortham - a founder of Women for Jeb 
Bush, the Governor's re-election operation - successfully lobbied on 
behalf of the Florida Association of Counties to stop the state the 
legislature from blocking the purchase of touch-screen voting systems. 
Mortham, coincidentally, was also a paid lobbyist for Election Systems & 
Strategies, a computer voting-machine manufacturer.  Fifteen of Florida's 
sixty-seven counties chose the pricey computers, twelve of them ordered 
from ES&S which, in turn, paid Mortham's County Association a percentage 
on sales.

Florida's computerization had its first mass test in 2002, in Broward 
County. The ES&S machines appeared to work well in white Ft. Lauderdale 
precincts, but in black communities, such as Lauderhill and Pompano Beach, 
there was wholesale disaster. Poll workers were untrained, and many places 
opened late.  Black voters were held up in lines for hours. No one doubts 
that hundreds of Black votes were lost before they were cast.

Broward county commissioners had purchased the touch-screen machines from 
ES&S over the objection of Elections Supervisor Miriam Oliphant; notably, 
one commissioner's campaign treasurer was an ES&S lobbyist. Governor Bush 
responded to the Broward fiasco by firing Oliphant, an African-American, 
for "misfeasance."

Even when computers work, they don't work well for African-Americans.  A 
July 2001 Congressional study found that computers spoiled votes in 
minority districts at three times the rate of votes lost in white 

Based on the measured differential in vote loss between paper and computer 
systems, the fifteen counties in Florida, can expect to lose at least 
29,000 votes to spoilage-some 27,000 more than if the counties had used 
paper ballots with scanners.

Given the demographics of spoilage, this translates into a net lead of 
thousands for Bush before a single ballot is cast.


For the full story, read "Another Florida" in the November issue of
Harper's, out now.  Mr. Palast, a contributing editor to the magazine,
is author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can
Buy.  See the film of his investigative reports for BBC Television,
"Bush Family Fortunes," out now on DVD.  Watch a segment at

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