New Florida voting system not quite goof-proof

MIAMI -- No hanging chads. No votes evaporating in electronic ether. Just color an oval or fill in a line.

The optical scanners Florida voters will use Nov. 4 have been roundly praised as simpler and more trustworthy than the punch cards and touchscreens they replaced. A schoolkid could figure them out, and they leave a ''paper trail'' that can verify computer-tabulated results.

But this is Florida. Paper trails, recounts and audits only go so far. And, all too frequently, Palm Beach happens.

The county behind the infamous butterfly ballot of 2000 temporarily misplaced 3,500 ballots in a tight judicial race during the August primary. It took four weeks and three recounts, each producing slightly varying numbers, to declare a winner. But the loser's lawsuit means the recounting may not be done yet.

''I think Murphy's Law has taken up residence in the Palm Beach County elections office,'' said Mary McCarty, a Republican county commissioner and canvassing board member. ``It's a different system but the curse remains.''

One month before a presidential race expected to draw a strong turnout, the question is whether Palm Beach's problems reflect one county's inability to exorcise the demons of Bush-Gore 2000 or portend wider troubles for McCain-Obama 2008.

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