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Palm Beach County's election woes continue

Recounted votes don't match up with ballots cast

By Todd R. Weiss
September 8, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Two weeks after Palm Beach County's Aug. 26 primary, election officials still don't know why the number of paper ballots they've recounted aren't matching up with the number of ballots that were cast in the primary.

After multiple recounts using optical-scanning machines and manual hand counts, the numbers aren't in agreement, said Robert Weiner, an administrative aide to Arthur Anderson, the county's supervisor of elections. Last week, Weiner said he believed the discrepancy was probably the result of boxes of ballots that weren't reprocessed as part of the recounts, but the controversy continues.

Election workers have been continuing the recounts around the clock since the election to try to resolve the discrepancies, Weiner said, but even a state-mandated random audit of one voting precinct came out wrong. In the random audit of one precinct, 144 ballots were counted but the vote tally was one higher, or 145 votes.

"Does that mean we have a fault in our electronic equipment? Does that mean we have a fault in the counting, such as a human error?" Weiner asked. The next step, he said, "is to look to see whether there was something improperly tabulated by computers or humans.

"We have to figure out why [this happened] and sometimes there is no answer," he said. "In this case, there appears to be no direct answer."

The recounts of the past two weeks were conducted because of a race for a judgeship that was separated by 17 votes, triggering a mandated recount to check the results.

The problems continued when the recounts found varying total numbers of ballots. On election night, the county reported that 102,523 paper ballots were filled out by voters, but the ensuing hand recounts tallied up only 98,775 ballots or about 101,000 ballots.

"So unfortunately, this is a mess and we come off looking very poorly, where in fact we are a group of tremendously dedicated professionals," Weiner said.

This is the first time that the county is using the paper-based, optical-scanning balloting system from Sequoia Voting Systems in Oakland, Calif. Previously, the county used touch-screen, or direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines. The DREs have been largely replaced by the optically scanned paper ballots under a July 1 state mandate to move to a more reliable system that maintains a paper record of ballots cast.

"You have to remember that this is brand new equipment ... that we have not used before [and] was thrust on us by the legislature ... at a time when national elections are pending," Weiner said. "This is now the equipment that we have, and this is the situation that we are in."

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