MIAMI Eight days before Election Day, a federal judge ruled Monday that Florida's touch-screen voting machines do not have to produce a paper record for use in case a recount becomes necessary.
U.S. District Judge James Cohn said that the machines ''provide sufficient safeguards'' by warning voters if they have not cast a vote in a particular race and by allowing them to give their ballots a final review.
Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., had sought either a paper record or an order switching voters in 15 counties from touch-screens to optically scanned paper ballots by 2006.
The Florida secretary of state's office has said the machines have had a successful track record since they were introduced to the state in 2002, following the punch-card debacle during the 2000 presidential election.
''Florida voters should have complete confidence in the voter systems we're using, and for Congressman Wexler to try to erode the voter confidence or put doubt in the voter's mind does a real disservice to the voters of Florida,'' said Jenny Nash, a spokesper-son for the secretary of state.
Cohn, who heard three days of testimony last week, said a paper printout allowing voters to make sure their selections are correct would be preferable.
But he said he was limited to determining whether the current procedures are constitutionally sound.
Wexler said he planned to appeal. He said he believes the judge was reluctant to make any ''drastic changes'' since early voting already is under way.
Republican Gov. Jeb Bush ''successfully ran the clock out on the ability to improve the election process for 2004,'' the congressman said.
Wexler attorney Jeff Liggio argued the machines have no way to deal with malfunctions or distinguish between voter mistakes and intentional decisions to skip ballot items.
The judge said the question of malfunctions was a state rather than a federal issue.
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