© Gloria Lin and Nicole Espinoza 2007

Stanford University

Florida Congressional Elections: November 2006

The history of voting in the United States has mainly concerned the usage of paper ballots. The task of counting votes and paper ballots consumed much time, and it was not until the 1890s and the invention of the lever machine that a company marketed an automatic process for counting votes.

Since then, technology has grown and led the United States to the Electronic Machine Voting system in the 1990s, where touch screens and keypads control voter results. In 2004, a survey led to the conclusion that 675 counties in the United States, 30% of all registered voters, used electronic voting systems (Brace). Despite the growing use of electronic voting machines, the system has met with mixed support, especially with the many stories of failures and voting controversy. One of the most recent stories is of the Florida Congressional Elections in November of 2006.

The Florida congressional house elections took place on November 7, 2006, in districts 1 through 25. Elections progressed normally, except in District 13 of Sarasota County, where over 18,000 ballots cast on the electronic voting machines registered no votes. As reported in the online news archives of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, many voters’ summary screens reported that no vote was cast, and while “Some voters were able to go back and record a vote… others believe they were never given a meaningful opportunity to cast a vote in that race.”

The loss of so many ballot was significant in more ways than one. For one, the lawsuit against the results alleged that the voting machines were improperly certified and that Florida had discounted warning signs concerning the reliability of the machines. Secondly, the undervote rate was more than 16% (about 1 in 6), as compared to a 2.5% undervote rate with the paper absentee ballot and only 1% undervote rate for the Senate race in the same county. More importantly, the winner won by a mere 363 votes. In this case, the lost 18,000 ballots could easily sway the vote.

Even if a recount had not been triggered automatically by the small margin of difference, the lawsuit filed by Sarasota voters demanding a recount would have forced one anyway. Although the recount did not alter previous voting results, the problem still remains that such a large error with the EMV system had occurred.

The recent problems with Electronic Machine Voting sytems in Florida are especially troubling to the public because of the United States presidential elections of 2000, arguably the most controversial presidential election in United States history. The battle between the leading two candidates whittled down to hinge on the votes in the state of Florida. The ultimate decision and recount declared George W. Bush the winner of the Florida vote and the presidency by a mere 537 votes. However, it is estimated that four to six million ballots were not cast or recorded. A third of those ballots were due to mechanical and technical failures with clogged punch holes on the ballots, a piece of electronic voting that is lower on the technological scale (Selker).

Although electronic voting practices have existed longer in the United States than in other high-tech countries, the United States still has a long way to go until the machines are bug-free and trusted. Incidents like the Florida Congressional Elections continue to occur, and it will take much work on the part of vendors, the government, and the people to trust the system.

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Source: AP Photo/Ric Feld, AP/ USA Today