Report says machines used in New York, Florida can add "phantom" votes.
WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. - Nearly half of Florida's voters will have their ballots counted this November by machines that can malfunction in as little as two hours and start adding votes.
A New York study found the vote counter added votes in some races, which can invalidate some or all of the votes.
Election Systems & Software's DS200 scanner will count votes in many of the most populous cities in Florida, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. State elections officials stand behind the scanner, which they say has been thoroughly tested.
Even so, the manufacturer issued a nationwide warning that the scanner needs to be carefully cleaned to avoid adding "phantom" votes.
The addition of extra votes can generate overvoting -- instances where two or more candidates are chosen on a ballot in the same race. If a voter doesn't correct the ballot, his or her vote in that race is thrown out. In 2008, overvoting rates were so high in Florida counties using the scanner that an estimated 11,000 people lost their vote for president, an analysis by the nonprofit watchdog group Florida Fair Elections Coalition concluded.
The group requested that the state Division of Elections temporarily remove the DS200 from its list of authorized voting equipment. That didn't happen, but the Florida report caught the attention of election watchers in New York, who sued to stop the DS200 hardware from being used there.
While the suit was pending, voters went to the polls for the 2010 elections.
Overvoting problems immediately surfaced. A Bronx precinct recorded especially high levels of invalid votes. The problem surfaced after the scanner was left on for two hours, not an uncommon practice in precincts with busy day-long voting.
ES&S emphasizes that the New York report involved a single malfunctioning scanner. "The DS200 has been used in hundreds of elections and has counted millions of ballots accurately," said an ES&S spokeswoman.
However, Lawrence Norden, deputy director of New York University Law School's Brennan Center Democracy Program, said that while elections officials examined machines in only one precinct, overvoting occurred throughout New York City in 2010.
"The fact that this could happen to one scanner means it could happen to all scanners," said Douglas Kellner, co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections.