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COUP WATCH: Two Different Punch Card Systems In Florida

by Paul H. Rosenberg Saturday, Nov. 18, 2000 at 7:17 PM
rad@gte.net

Large Democratic-leaning counties use a punch card system with a much higher error rate than the system used in more Republican-leaning counties, according to a story in the Washington Post.

There are two different punch card systems used in Florida, according to a story in the Washington Post today, written by reporter Dana Milbank. The differences between them helps to dispel some of the confusion that Republicans have been both exploiting and generating in order to obscure the numerous problems that have appeared disproportionately in Democratic strongholds.

The Votamatic system, used in urban Democrat strongholds counties like Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade, produces hanging chads and other anomolies because it uses a paperclip-sized stylus to punch holes in a perforated ballot. The Datavote system uses a hole-punching machine with non-perforated ballots, which produces far fewer hanging chads (and presumably still less other anomolies, if any) according to the story in the Post. The Datavote systems predominates in smaller pro-Bush counties.

One punch card technology, the Votamatic system, involves punching holes in a perforated ballot using a stylus the size of a paper clip. This system produces the "hanging chad" that causes votes not to be counted by machines because the punched paper remains partially attached. This system is used in urban counties such as Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, which favor Gore by about 1,825,000 votes to 1,600,000. It allows more information on one ballot--an attraction in big counties with more items and candidates.

The other punch card technology, the Datavote system, uses a hole-punching machine on non-perforated ballots. This technology, though more expensive and more cumbersome, produces few hanging chads and, therefore, far fewer of the misread ballots that would be found in a hand count. This system is used mostly in small counties where Bush leads Gore about 90,000 to 60,000. It’s widely regarded as more reliable than the Votamatic system.

Other counties use either optical scanners or more primitive systems. Volusia County’s optical scanner system also malfunctioned.

To help put the Washington Post story in context, it should be noted that the county-level percentage of void presidentail ballots in Florida varied by a factor of 69 from a low of 0.18% in Leon County to a high of 12.4% in Franklin county. Palm Beach had a void rate of 6.43%, Broward 2.49%, and Miami-Dade 4.37.

Differences in void ballots between presidential and senatorial races cannot be explained in terms of the differences in voting systems. Nor do these differences in voting systems explain differences in double voting. But this story definitely does help to eliminate some of the confusion which has been so copiously generated over the past 10 days.

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voting Fred Hilgart Saturday, Nov. 18, 2000 at 11:56 PM
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