- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2004

Despite the Help America Vote Act signed in 2002 to improve the electoral system, 32 million registered voters still will be using punch cards in the November presidential election, according to a report released last week.

Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Utah will have the largest number of counties planning to use punch cards. Florida, where the election system created the 2000 presidential election stalemate, has replaced all its punch-card machines with either optical or electronic equipment.

Almost $4 billion of federal funding has been allocated to states for the replacement of punch-card voting systems.

“It is a possibility that you can still have a problem in 2004 if the election is close,” Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services, said during a news conference Thursday.

Changes have been made, “but probably not as much as we anticipated,” Mr. Brace said at the National Press Club, where the political consulting firm released a study about voting equipment.

About 28 percent of registered voters used punch cards for the general election in 2000, and 17 percent, or 32 million voters, will use that method in November, the report said.

Between 2000 and 2004, the use of electronic equipment increased from 12.5 percent to 29 percent. Optical-scan equipment — the most commonly used voting system — increased from 29 percent to 32 percent during the same period of time. Optical scanning will be used in almost half of the nation’s counties in November, Election Data Services said.

Problems with electronic equipment arise during a close election because the recount is based on the rereading of the equipment’s memory, Mr. Brace said. This explains why more states are resorting to the optical-scan system, he said.

When President Bush signed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), he said, “Every registered voter deserves to have confidence that the system is fair and elections are honest, that every vote is recorded, and that the rules are consistently applied.”

But Mr. Brace said that Congress and the White House have delayed the implementation and funding of the HAVA.

“When the HAVA was passed in 2002, everyone was writing about how everything is going to change for the 2004 election,” Mr. Brace said.

“The continued controversy over voter-verified ballots with electronic systems has led to a slowdown of changes throughout the United States,” Mr. Brace said in a prepared statement. About $650 million has been distributed.

Before the coming general election, 265 counties will have phased out the punch-card system, but 307 counties, with 18 percent of registered voters, still are expected to use punch cards.

Because of security concerns, some counties that have acquired electronic systems might not have time to implement replacement systems and may be forced to return to punch cards in November, the report said.

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