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Fewer problems on early vote's second day

By John Murawski and Jane Musgrave

Palm Beach Post Staff Writers

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Ann Dean spent eight hours — five on Monday and three on Tuesday — before she finally managed to vote.

The Boca Raton resident was one of scores stuck in voting limbo Tuesday morning when six touch-screen voting machines at the county branch library off Palmetto Park Road wouldn't start, forcing elections workers to order replacements.

Giselle Gertas is among about 100 people waiting to vote at the county library west of Boca Raton, where voting machines initially wouldn't work. Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore said poll workers had flipped a security switch on the six units. Replacement machines arrived, and voting started about noon.
 "We can't vote. It's like Afghanistan," Boca Raton resident Jane Weidman fumed over machine problems that weren't resolved until midday.

Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore insisted that the machines did not malfunction, explaining that workers inadvertently hit a security switch that shut them down.

Despite the problems at the suburban Boca Raton voting site, the second day of early voting in Palm Beach County seemed to go smoother than Monday's inaugural opportunity to cast ballots for the Nov. 2 presidential election.

People zipped in and out of the main elections office in suburban West Palm Beach in 20 minutes or less.

"Everyone was orderly, congenial," West Palm Beach resident Art Dyer, 58, said after voting at midday. "It was a simple process. I was very pleased with it."

In all, nearly 5,000 people voted at eight locations across the county, LePore said. Figures were not available from the branch library in suburban Boca Raton.

And while two-hour waits greeted voters at the elections office in the south county administrative complex in Delray Beach, people were calm.

"The camaraderie has been tremendous," Boca Raton resident Bernadette Adkins, 55, said as she traded jokes and made conversation with others lining the hallway outside the elections office.

Such was not the case on Monday, when tempers flared at most of the voting locations.

LePore said some of her staff members were left in tears by voters who screamed epithets at them. At the Delray Beach office, one voter grabbed a worker's arm and twisted it, a security guard said.

But while complaints from voters decreased, Democratic politicians ramped up criticism of how LePore was dealing with the first statewide exercise of early voting.

At a news conference outside the main elections office, they blasted LePore, insisting steps should be taken to speed the process. They said she should be doing more to shorten the lines by bringing in additional voting machines and adding more polling locations.

"I didn't expect everything to go perfectly," said state Sen. Ron Klein, D-Delray Beach. "It's as simple as having enough equipment and enough locations. Let's solve the problem. Early voting works."

It's not as easy as it looks, LePore has said.

It's difficult to find places that have phone lines available and are secure so machines can be left overnight, she has said. Further, locations have to be able to accommodate large crowds and long hours, including weekends.

Also, about 60 voting machines are deployed, she has said, and putting out more could create problems on Election Day because early voting continues through Nov. 1. She doesn't have any spare machines, and equipment would have to be reprogrammed and taken to precincts early on Election Day.

She blamed Tuesday's delays on the lack of technology at locations never designed to be polling places. High-speed phone lines aren't available, so it takes extra time for workers to check people's voter registration.

LePore said the county's computer system won't accommodate any additional phone lines for poll workers to access voting records.

Realizing problems could develop, she said she asked political leaders not to take busloads of people to voting locations at the two south county libraries, recreation centers in Jupiter and Royal Palm Beach and Belle Glade City Hall.

"If you're going to bus, please take them to the main office, where we can accommodate them," she warned.

However, she said, they ignored that advice.

"It's very frustrating," she said.

Democratic leaders sent out news releases Tuesday urging voters to attend rallies and get bused to county libraries to vote.

Politicos weren't the only ones taking aim at LePore. She lost her reelection bid in August largely because many voters blame her for designing the infamous butterfly ballot, which they believe cost Democrat Al Gore the presidency in 2000.

Those forced to wait at the branch library west of Boca Raton cursed LePore as they waited for replacement touch-screen voting machines to arrive. But their ire was directed at precinct supervisor Etty Hakim.

Surrounded by clamoring retirees, housewives and people who took time off work, Hakim hid in a conference room without offering explanations for the delays.

"No comment. Have a nice day," she told a group gathered at her door that included State Rep. Irving Slosberg, D-Boca Raton. When voting finally got under way, Hakim said "everything is hunky dory" and instructed people in line to keep quiet "because this is a library."

Democratic poll watcher Rhoda Stern-Moss ultimately explained the problem: "They tried to boot up the machines this morning and they wouldn't go, so they ordered new ones. No big deal."

LePore agreed, and said the problem would not be repeated on Nov. 2. The six machines would not start because workers inadvertently hit the switch they use when polls close on Election Day. As a security measure, the machines won't start again after the button has been hit until they are reprogrammed, LePore said.

Albert Dranoff said he isn't taking any chances. That's why the 77-year-old suburban Boynton Beach resident decided to vote early.

"I wanted to make sure my vote counted if the machines break down or there's not enough people to handle the voters that show up," he said as he left the main elections office. He added: "This way, I know it's taken care of."

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