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Improvement at the polls

Published Sep. 4, 2005

The investment in money and aggravation to upgrade Florida's voting system was worth it. In November 2000, Florida embarrassed itself and left the outcome of the presidential race hanging in the balance. In September 2002, after spending tens of millions of dollars on technology, we still didn't get it quite right. Then, the Nov. 5 general election appeared to go smoothly. Now, the results of a voter survey conducted on Election Day confirm it.

Four in 10 voters said their experience at the polls was better than two years ago, and only 3 percent said it was worse, according to the poll conducted by the Collins Center for Public Policy and the James Madison Institute. Perhaps most surprising, 85 percent of voters rated the ease of using the new technology (touch screens and optical scanners) as excellent or good. Those who used touch screens reported the highest rates of satisfaction, said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida professor who helped design the study. "Older voters were much more thrilled with them than younger ones," she said.

That has to be gratifying to officials in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough, who made the difficult decision to spend millions of dollars on untested technology. At the time, only one large-scale election had been held on touch-screen machines. But their research and hard work paid off.

Some pitfalls remain. The 2002 primary taught us that sophisticated machines require well-trained poll workers. Florida counties put forth a Herculean effort to get ready for the general election, and the work paid off. There will be no time to rest, however, because the new systems require constant training and vigilance.

The most important result of the poll could be this: Floridians recognized and appreciated the effort to make our elections efficient and accurate.