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Elections supervisor: Printers not needed

Retrofitting Pinellas County's new touch screen voting machines to generate a receipt for voters to help verify how their ballots were cast would cost more than $2.5-million, the county's supervisor of elections told a County Commission workshop Tuesday.

Deborah Clark, the county's top elections official, also said the expense is unnecessary, given that the county's touch screen system, built by Sequoia Voting Systems, is safe from tampering and provides an electronic audit report that summarizes the balloting on individual machines, which could be used for a manual recount.

"We don't take this lightly," Clark said. "There is nothing that has been alleged that has caused a problem for an election anywhere."

Voting machine reliability exploded as an issue with the 2000 presidential election, prompting federal legislation and a national movement to replace old punch card machines with electronic voting booths. But critics in Florida and elsewhere say the new machines are worrisome because with a computerized voting system everything is electronic; no physical ballot exists to examine later if results are disputed.

Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rush Holt have both filed bills that would require a paper backup by the November election _ an impossible task, many elections supervisors have said. Graham has said his bill is meant to "ensure that every vote really counts."

Three states _ Nevada, California and Washington _ have either required or will require receipt printers on all electronic voting systems.

In Palm Beach County, commissioners are pushing to add printed receipts after 137 people used the touch screens but were recorded as casting no votes in a special state House election this month. The race was decided by 12 votes.

Clark told commissioners each Pinellas machine houses a card that stores votes that are later counted at a central office, but it also creates audit reports of each machine and recreates a copy of each ballot internally that can be used if a manual recall is ordered.

On the same day Clark spoke, Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning told his County Commission the same thing: Printed receipts are expensive and unnecessary.

"I don't think our county needs to be paying additional money to upgrade our systems that are already certified and already work," Browning said.

Clark said the Sequoia company is developing a printer that would work with the voting machines Pinellas bought and approved, but it won't be ready by November. Buying enough of them would be costly, she said.

"You don't just go to Office Depot and buy a printer and attach it to the voting machine," she said.

To outfit the 3,800 voting machines in Pinellas, Clark figured it would cost $2.5-million, then paper and additional poll workers would add about $50,000 to each election.