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Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood’s office was notified about a systematic malfunction in the electronic voting system used in Miami-Dade and Broward counties two months earlier than she acknowledged last week. On Thursday, Hood, an appointee of Gov. Jeb Bush, told the League of Women Voters that she only learned about an audit function problem in the iVotronic machines by reading a Daily Business Review article on May 13. “It was not reported, as required by state statute, to the division of elections,” Hood said in response to a question on Thursday. Last month, Hood sharply criticized Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Constance A. Kaplan for not alerting her sooner about the audit glitch. Such flaws can cast doubt on the credibility of an election because the auditing process fails to correctly match vote totals recorded by the machines. Hood’s office is responsible for certifying all election machinery and software in the state. But in a letter to Hood’s office dated March 12, the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, a group of civic activists, informed a top official in Hood’s office about the audit function problem. In a March 24 letter, Hood’s assistant general counsel, Marielba Torres, acknowledged the problem but said the iVotronic touch-screen system has “several built-in layers of checks and balances to ensure the accurate tabulation of all votes cast.” Now, with the November presidential election approaching, Hood is coming under the same type of criticism as Kaplan has faced for failing to promptly acknowledge and address the audit problem. “It is troubling that the secretary would disclaim any knowledge when it is clear that her department knew,” said Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, chair of the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition. “This shows that unlike in other states, our election leaders will not take a critical eye toward vendors and challenge vendors to do better.” The Business Review‘s reports about the iVotronic system’s audit glitch have prompted national concern, given that Florida is again expected to be a pivotal state in the November presidential election. On Sunday, the lead editorial in The New York Times called the audit flaw in Miami-Dade County a “disturbing malfunction.” U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., cites the audit problem as yet another reason to dump the controversial touch-screen machines, which are used in 15 Florida counties, and replace them with the optical scan voting system used in the other 52 counties. He argues that voters can’t rely on the accuracy of the touch-screen machines, which do not provide a means for performing recounts of individual votes in close elections. But Hood and Gov. Bush have insisted that the touch-screen machines are accurate and reliable and that there’s no reason to install a paper back-up system that would allow manual recounts. Last month, the Daily Business Review reported that a Miami-Dade elections official wrote two memos last year, in June and October, concluding that the iVotronic machines were “unusable” for auditing, recounting and certifying an election. The memos were written by Orlando Suarez, division manager of the county’s Enterprise Technology Department. The first memo was addressed to Omaha, Neb.-based Electronic Systems & Software, the manufacturer of the iVotronic machines and software; the second memo was addressed to Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Kaplan. Suarez based his comments on his analysis of the voting results in a North Miami Beach runoff election in March 2003 and a Homestead, Fla., municipal election last October. Suarez has declined repeated requests for comment. At an April 19 meeting of the Miami-Dade County Commission’s elections subcommittee, Kaplan acknowledged the existence of the iVotronic audit problem, and said it also arose in the March 2004 election. For months, there has been growing criticism that state and county officials in Florida — unlike in other states like California — have downplayed or ignored claims that touch-screen voting machines are glitch-prone and do not allow for a legally required recount in the case of a close election. Rep. Wexler, who has filed lawsuits in both state and federal court challenging the legality of the touch-screen machines because they don’t allow recounts, also was critical. “Gov. Bush and Secretary Hood continue to ignore the obvious wake-up calls to fix our election system in Florida,” he said. “I don’t understand why Gov. Bush and Secretary Hood continue to act as if no one else has determined there are significant defects with these touch screen machines,” Wexler said in an interview Tuesday. “Their stubbornness, their unwillingness to re-evaluate the condition of our voting machines is placing Florida at great risk.” Hood, who last Friday was faxed copies of correspondence between the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition and her office, did not return calls for comment Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Elections Systems & Software reiterated the company’s position that the machines have performed well. “We want to underscore that these machines are reliable, that the votes are being counted and there does exist an accurate and reliable audit of votes cast,” said ES&S spokeswoman Jill Friedman. She said the auditing issue raised by the two Suarez memos “relates only to the software that generates a specific audit report.” The company says it has a temporary “work-around” solution. On Thursday, Hood said her office has launched a probe into the flaw discovered in the audit function of the iVotronic machines. “We won’t know until the investigation is completed if there is a true problem,” Hood said. “But I can assure you the Division of Elections is on top of the problem.” When asked what action, if any, she would take against Kaplan for not informing her about the problem, Hood declined comment pending her department’s investigation. It is estimated that 30 percent of voters across the country will vote on touch-screen machines this fall. Both Miami-Dade and Broward use the iVotronic system. Palm Beach County uses a system manufactured by Oakland, Calif.-based Sequoia Voting Systems. Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes has not commented publicly on the audit report issue. The audit logs contained in the iVotronic machines are supposed to record all activity that occurs on the touch-screen voting machines, from boot-up to shutdown. Computer experts say that if the audit log does not work, the credibility of the election can be thrown into question because there is no other way to verify that all votes were tabulated. In his memos to Electronic Systems & Software and to Kaplan, Suarez reported that the iVotronic machines’ audit log lost some votes and in some cases did not even recognize voting machines that were used in the election. For example, in the Homestead election he found that 162 ballots — more than 10 percent of the votes cast in the election — failed to appear in the system’s audit report. ES&S said, however, that all of the votes were accurately tabulated in the final vote count. At the April 19 meeting of the County Commission’s elections subcommittee, Kaplan said she had been told about the audit problem by the election reform group in December. As it happened, Suarez sent her a memo about the Homestead problem in October 2003. Kaplan later acknowledged receiving the memo, saying she misspoke at the April 19 meeting. In a letter to Hood, Kaplan explained she did not publicly disclose the Suarez memo about Homestead because she sought to “strike a delicate balance between raising valid concerns … and not necessarily alarming the public.” Hood has sought to fend off criticism over the audit glitch by claiming that she did not know about it until it was reported in the Daily Business Review last month. But on March 12, University of Miami law professor Martha Mahoney, a member of the reform coalition, wrote a nine-page letter to Ed Kast, the director of the Division of Elections in Hood’s office, outlining a variety of election concerns. Among them was the audit flaw identified by Suarez in the iVotronic machines. “The memorandum concludes that the reports created from the audit logs and voter image reports reveal a ‘serious bug,’” wrote Mahoney, who attached Suarez’s June 2003 memo about the North Miami Beach election to her letter. “The Elections Department does not deny the findings in this memo but emphasizes that the total vote count was not changed,” Mahoney continues in the letter. “The department also told the Coalition that the error regarding the serial numbers does not happen when votes are counted directly from the iVotronics, and that ES&S is attempting to fix the ‘glitch’ in the software that caused the discrepancies.” On March 24, Torres, assistant general counsel in Hood’s office, responded to Mahoney’s letter. In a four-page letter, she acknowledged the problems but sought to reassure Mahoney. “Please be assured that although some problems have been encountered in a few areas of the state with the use of [touch-screen machines], both the county supervisors of the elections and the Division of Elections have been and continue to work on resolving them and improving the elections.” But last Thursday, Hood told the League of Women Voters in Miami that no county election supervisors had informed her about any problems with touch-screen machines and that any flaws were due to human error. “In counties where we use touch-screen machines,” Hood said, “the supervisors of elections have had nothing but positive things to say.” Hood sought to distance herself from the audit log controversy, saying she has “absolutely no authority over the running of elections in this state.” Questions remain about how Miami-Dade and Broward counties intend to address the iVotronic audit problem. Last month, Kaplan said she would try to get new software certified by the state to fix the problem in time for the November election. But then she said that June 1 was the state’s deadline, and that it would not be met. Then last week, Kaplan said ES&S would present new software for certification by today. On Tuesday morning, however, there was fresh doubt. “It is our understanding it is not going to happen,” Kaplan’s spokesman said. In Broward, Deputy Supervisor Of Elections Gisela Salas said Broward would not be using any new software no matter what happens. “We are going with the existing version even if something gets certified,” she said. “All training materials go to print this week and training starts on June 22.” Despite the frantic county efforts to fix the touch-screen problems, Wexler urged a switch to the simpler, better-proven optical scan voting system. “For those election officials to put their head in the sand and say, ‘Trust us,’ that is not enough,” he said. “Especially after the election debacle of 2000.”

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