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Florida, a state famous for election problems, is taking steps to put that history behind it. Today, new Republican Governor Charlie Crist said that he wants to require the use of paper ballots in all of the state's 67 counties.
As NPR's Greg Allen reports, that would mean phasing out the use of touch-screen voting machines, machines that currently count nearly half the ballots cast in Florida.
GREG ALLEN: Governor Crist's announcement marks a big turnaround for Florida. After the 2000 presidential election debacle, a recount that focused attention Florida's faulty punch card systems, the state, under Governor Jeb Bush, embraced ATM-style touch-screen voting in a big way. The state's largest counties rely almost exclusively on touch-screen machines.
And in recent elections, there have been problems. In Sarasota, for example, the Democratic candidate in the 13th congressional district is challenging the victory of her Republican opponent because of a large undervote she attributes to touch-screen machines. More than 18,000 ballots cast on the machines registered no vote in the congressional race.
Today, Governor Crist said he wants to get rid of all those touch-screen machines and replace them with optical scan systems that would read paper ballots. He called it common sense and the right thing to do.
Governor CHARLIE CRIST (Florida): It is incredibly important to understand what the people are saying when they vote. And first and foremost we need to be able to find out if there's a question about a vote, that there's a ballot to recount. That's what we're proposing today.
ALLEN: To that end, the governor said he's including $32 million in his budget to help counties replace their touch-screen machines with optical scan systems. He made his announcement in Palm Beach County, the home in 2000 of the infamous butterfly ballot. It's also a district represented in Washington by Congressman Robert Wexler, a Democrat who in the past has gone to court to try to require the state to keep a paper trail of all votes cast.
If Crist's plan is approved by the legislature, Florida would become the first state to concede that its investment in touch-screen voting machines was a mistake. Congressman Wexler hopes that other states and Congress may benefit from Crist's example.
Representative ROBERT WEXLER (Democrat, Florida): His plan for Florida is consistent entirely with what Washington is likely to do. And once this is implemented and accomplished, let's use it, grow comfortable, let it have its further experience and who knows what happens in the future.
ALLEN: Governor Crist said he hopes to have all the state's touch-screen machines replaced by optical scan systems in time for next year's presidential election. But that may be overly optimistic. One election supervisor said given the time needed to purchase new machines and train personnel, the earliest the state may be able to replace its touch-screen machines is 2010.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Delray Beach, Florida.
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