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Paper trail dominates elections public hearing

The Senate Ethics & Elections Committee spent two and a half hours Tuesday rehashing the 2006 election, and to no one's surprise the top issue was touchscreen voting machines and the ongoing controversy surrounding the disputed Congressional race in Sarasota.

Several speakers urged the Legislature to require that voting systems in Florida have a way to track votes, and that there be mandatory audits of all voting systems. Two North Florida men, both of whom said they were in the computer business, even went further, saying that Florida should return to a paper ballot because there was no way to completely secure electronic voting machines from tampering.

Much of the discussion was sparked by the fact that roughly 18,000 voters in Sarasota County did not cast a vote in the heated race between Christine Jennings and Vern Buchanan, which Buchanan won by 369 votes. Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent was on hand for the hearing but did not testify. Kindra Muntz, president of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections, spent a half hour pleading with lawmakers about what happened there and called it a "travesty of democracy."

Kurt Browning, the new Secretary of State,  also spoke and said he is hopeful that the three companies that make the touchscreen machines used in Florida will soon submit equipment that could be used to create a "voter verified audit trail." Browning, who prefers touchscreen machines but said he has an "open mind" about creating a paper trail, said he plans to soon submit recommendations to the Legislature on the best way to align the state laws on voting machines while also moving the state closer to a paper trail.

The question of course remains if lawmakers are willing to push a state law onto the books. Sen. Bill Posey, a Rockledge Republican and architect of the election reforms in 2001 that led to touchscreen machines, took one speaker to task and noting that people can vote by absentee ballot, said "I don't know anyone who is forced to use a touchscreen machine."