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Making Every Vote Count.

Turns out, counting votes is not an exact science. Nor is the process uniform. Each county in the U.S. is free to choose its own ballots and voting machines.

This can cause huge headaches. In Florida, where the race between Al Gore and George W. Bush was especially close, ballot problems led to confusion and anger in several counties.

The "butterfly" ballots in Palm Beach County, for example, confused many voters. Thousands of people said that they mistakenly voted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of Democrat Al Gore.

A confusing ballot in Duval County led voters to cast votes for two presidential candidates. As a result, more than 26,000 ballots in that county were thrown out.

Lots of Mistakes

Politicians and election officials have long known that every Election Day, hundreds of thousands of votes are thrown out, lost, or misread. Some mistakes are intentional; some are not. But these problems get attention only in close elections. That's why every election official prays for a landslide win.

Thirty-four percent of U.S. voters, including Floridians in 27 of 67 counties, used punch-card ballots in this year's election. The machines that count these ballots are 99.9% accurate, according to one manufacturer.

Sounds like a great percentage. But that 0.1% can--and did--make a big difference. In Florida, where 6 million people voted, 0.1% equals 6,000 votes that may not have been read correctly. That amount is far greater than the vote difference between Gore and Bush.

A Better Way to Vote?

There are several other ways to vote:

1. Paper ballots: Simple, but they take a long time to count.

2. Lever machines: These large machines are accurate, but difficult to store, and they are no longer made.

3. Optical scan: Easy, but expensive. And machines can't read sloppy forms.

4. Electronic system: As easy as pressing the screen of an ATM bank machine--and maybe as accurate. But it's expensive. And the system is still subject to crashes.

Think voting by Internet is the answer? Think again. Keeping ballots secret and making sure that they can be audited (checked), is difficult to do. Besides, voting by Internet, says one computer expert, would leave us vulnerable to the "ping of death' a hacker's tool that could block many votes from being counted.

So far, no one has found a surefire solution. But one thing is sure. After this year's election mess, there's bound to be a big effort to make every vote count.
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Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 11, 2000
Words:418
Previous Article:Timeline.
Next Article:Election in the Courts.
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