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The BBC's Jonny Dymond
"Brazil, the City of Rome and Costa Rica use the technology"
 real 28k

Thursday, 11 January, 2001, 15:28 GMT
US chaos prompts hi-tech voting
An unidentified county worker, left, shows a Republican observer a ballot at the manual vote recount
The voting system left much room for debate in Florida
New voting technology to avoid any repeat of the shambles which surrounded the US presidential election is being developed by three big American computer companies.

Unisys, Dell and Microsoft are planning electronic systems that tell voters clearly which candidate they are choosing, and then count votes quickly and accurately.

Outdated voting methods in Florida are widely credited with handing George W Bush a tainted victory in the race for the White House.

News of the new technology came as the US Civil Rights Commission began hearings into allegations that tens of thousands of black voters in Florida were disenfranchised during the presidential election.

No more chads

Unisys said on Thursday that its new system would provide "the necessary components to support election reform demands for improved access to the voting process".

The firm said that more than half of America's registered voters currently used outdated voting systems, such as punch-card ballots - which produced the infamous chad debate in Florida.

The technology will also handle voter registration and identification, with the aim of eliminating fraud and queuing.

It will be up to each state, county or municipality to decide whether to buy the system.

Mr Bush, a Republican, secured victory in the presidential election after the US Supreme Court effectively ruled out further recounts in Florida - a decision which was widely seen as political.

His Democrat rivals said that thousands of votes for their candidate Al Gore had not been counted because of inadequacies in the state's voting system.

Gore 'was cheated'

Black Americans remain convinced that Al Gore won more votes than George W Bush in Florida and was cheated of the White House.

A black Floridan votes Gore
Black voters claim they were disenfranchised
The BBC's Malcolm Brabant says that anger is bound to resurface at the Civil Rights Commission hearings, which began on Thursday.

The commission is trying to determine whether black voters in Florida were discriminated against.

The first main witness is the state's governor, Jeb Bush, the brother of the president-elect.

Many blacks believe that he fixed the election.

Mr Bush insists he has nothing to hide and has joked that the only crime he is guilty of is being the president-elect's brother.

Mr Bush does not believe the Commission will uncover any evidence of a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise black voters, 93% of whom voted for Al Gore.

Scared off

But the Commission is looking at:

  • why black precincts were given some of the oldest and most unreliable voting machines
  • why 27,000 black votes were disqualified in Duval County in north-eastern Florida
  • whether the Florida Highway Patrol scared some people into not voting by setting up checkpoints near polling stations.

The Highway Patrol says it is insulted by the accusations and insists its operation was a routine effort to crack down on traffic violations.

The Democratic-leaning Commission is the most powerful Federal organisation that deals with racial discrimination, but it does not have any powers of enforcement.

It can only recommend changes to the President and Congress.

Black leaders have urged Mr Bush to prove that he is a President for all Americans by listening to their complaints and ensuring that there is no repeat of the Florida fiasco.

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