Missing Palm Beach Ballots Raise Questions for November
Updated 9:40 p.m.
By Mary Pat Flaherty
About 2,500 ballots remain missing from an Aug. 26 primary in Palm Beach County, Fla.
County workers will fan out to polling places Friday to check whether ballots may have been left there rather than being transferred to a central counting facility. Elections workers also will be counting voter signatures in logs from the primary as they try to account for discrepancies.
A weekend recount in a razor-thin judicial race in the county logged 99,045 ballots -- several thousand fewer than the 102,523 ballots machine scanners had recorded on election night and a difference that propelled Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning, along with his legal and technical teams, to make a surprise visit to West Palm Beach Wednesday to ask what had gone wrong.
Bin by bin, county workers had gone on the hunt for them Thursday but by evening had accounted for 100,002 ballots, county spokeswoman Kathy Adams said.
Florida state officials are worried that the scramble to reconcile ballot counts could undermine confidence in the switch to optical scan voting equipment statewide -- and also in the accuracy of the upcoming November presidential contest results.
The ballot problem occurred during a county primary with a 17 percent turnout, officials said.
County statements early Thursday indicated that most of the missing ballots had been found in a hand count but "that was speculation from some election staffers. I went back to ask about those and that was not right," Adams said Thursday night.
The county will run all the ballots it has found through high speed scanners Friday to crosscheck results of its hand counts, along with counting the voter signatures from logs.
Palm Beach County's "butterfly ballot" gained notoriety in 2000. The county abandoned punch card ballots after the deadlocked 2000 presidential election, moved to touchscreen machines for the 2004 elections and this year turned to optical scanners, following concerns the electronic machines did not offer a good paper trail in the event of challenges to results.
Browning's spokeswoman, Jennifer Davis, said "the machines worked spectacularly" in the election and said the missing ballots stemmed from "administrative problems" that are being investigated. "This is like balancing a checkbook and hopefully the county will identify a method to reconcile the counts. We believe this is an accounting issue," Davis said. Palm Beach County uses scanners and counters made by Sequoia Voting Systems, which also has staff on site.
The county's contract with Sequoia does not call for company staff to be present at recounts -- and they were not -- but equipment tests run on election night and following the recount found no problems, said Sequoia spokeswoman, Michelle M. Shafer.
A close race for Circuit Judge caused the vote recount. Palm Beach officials had declared incumbent Circuit Judge Richard Wennet the winner by 60 votes over William Abramson but state officials refused to certify that result due to the differing ballot totals.
State elections officials have until 5 p.m. Friday to certify state results so that ballots can be printed for the general election. Because the judicial race determines a winner--and would not have appeared on the November ballot in Palm Beach, Browning will recommend the state certify all but the judicial race results for the county during its Friday meeting, his office said. He made the recommendation late Thursday.
Adams could not explain how ballots found in precinct bins so far had been overlooked.
Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Arthur Anderson himself lost a bid for re-election during the Aug. 26 primary.
Posted at 4:56 PM ET on Sep 4, 2008
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