Approval of Voting Technology Is Tough State Manager Proud of Strict Standards

Article excerpt

Byline: P. Douglas Filaroski, Times-Union staff writer

Vendors dread it. Local election officials live with it. Florida voting system manager Paul Craft chuckles when asked about the state's tough process for approving new voting technologies.

"I think we are probably the toughest in the nation," said Craft, whose office must certify systems before they can be used by Florida voters. "We are very proud of that. I don't see any reason to change."

Six months after Florida's national election embarrassment, the Legislature last week approved spending $24 million so counties can replace those troublesome punch cards with new technology. Gov. Jeb Bush is expected to sign the bill today.

The question now is whether Craft's office -- proud of its tough, often time-consuming approval process -- can certify cutting-edge technologies, such as touch-screen voting, in time for statewide elections in 2002.

Several counties have expressed interest in electronic voting, particularly those like Duval, where a newer system might have lessened problems during November's tumultuous election.

"Obviously, it would have helped," said John Stafford, Duval County's election supervisor, who promised voters in 1998 he'd replace the antiquated system that produced the infamous hanging chads.

But the state has never certified a touch-screen voting system. Craft said it's because vendors never applied -- until recently. Vendors say it's because the state's tough process has for a long time discouraged them.

"Vendors go where the fish are biting," said Todd Urosevich, president of Election Systems and Software in Omaha, Neb., the nation's largest voting system maker.

"Because of the certification process, Florida was not one of those states where it was worth it to invest the time and money," Urosevich said.

Twenty-one Florida counties use Election System optical scanners, fax-like machines that scan and read paper ballots marked with pen or pencil. But most were sold in the late 1980s or early 1990s, said Urosevich, whose company has not had new hardware certified in about 10 years.

"Florida has a reputation as being tough because they've earned it," said Urosevich, whose company has tried for 18 months to certify a newer optical scanner system. It applied last week for touch-screen certification.

Larry Ensminger, a vice president for Global Election Systems, another large

manufacturer, said his company has had the same experience -- applying, reapplying, testing and retesting.

The voting system standards themselves -- which are technical -- aren't much different than many other states, vendors said. It's largely Craft's application of the standards that make the process more difficult, vendors said.

Florida requires applications to include more information and machines to be tested under more scenarios than most states, vendors said. …