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Abramson may sue after recount loss, says ballots left out  (FL)

JANE MUSGRAVE and SUSAN SPENCER-WENDEL  Palm Beach Post   31 August 2008

WEST PALM BEACH Losing Palm Beach County circuit judge candidate William Abramson said Sunday he will probably file a lawsuit in hopes of finding out what happened to roughly 3,400 ballots that he claims somehow evaporated between election day and the weekend's recount.

"It's not about me. It's about people having their votes counted," he said. "Everybody in the county and every candidate and every voter and every citizen of Palm Beach County has to be very, very concerned about what happened to those ballots."
Circuit Judge Richard Wennet, 59, was declared the winner of the race at about 1 a.m. Sunday after a grueling two-day recount. Trailing Abramson by 17 votes going into the recount, the 23-year jurist ended up winning by 60 votes, according to the results approved by the elections canvassing board.

However, the vote totals changed substantially. Initially, elections officials said 90,700 votes were cast in the race. At the end of the recount, the vote total stood at slightly more than 87,800, said Abramson, 41.

The total number of ballots cast in Tuesday's election, including those who chose not to vote in the circuit race, ped by 3,456, going from about 102,500 to slightly more than 99,000, he said.

"It is very clear that every vote was not counted in the recount," he said. "Arthur Anderson needs to explain what happened to the votes."

Elections Supervisor Anderson, who narrowly lost his bid for reelection Tuesday, didn't return phone calls for comment. The results of the recount weren't posted on his Web site.

Wennet was going out of town on a cruise and couldn't be reached.

Before heading home early Sunday, Anderson blamed the discrepancy on the sensitivity of tabulating machines.

The seven high-speed tabulating machines used in the recount are much more "unforgiving" than those that process votes on election day, he said.

Palm Beach County Judge Barry Cohen, chairman of the canvassing board, said the explanation Anderson gave him made sense when he heard it. However, he said, it's very technical.

"I'm neither smart enough to explain it nor do I think I understand it," he said Sunday afternoon.

Cohen said the proper people to question are those at Sequoia Voting Systems, which sold the county the new $5.5 million optical-scan system. Messages and e-mails sent to a company executive weren't returned.

The optical-scan system creates a paper trail, something the county's 6-year-old touch-screen system couldn't do. The weekend recount was the first test of the paper trail, touted as a way to make sure every vote counts.

As the recount was winding down early Sunday, Commissioner Mary McCarty warned Anderson of the looming public relations nightmare, particularly heading into the November presidential election, for which voter turnout is expected to be extremely high. Voters will want a good explanation, said McCarty, a canvassing board member.

The only similar problems around the state occurred when poll workers forgot to reset a machine and votes were double-counted, said Jennifer Krell Davis of the Florida Division of Elections. An error in Indian River County last week caused 5,000 extra votes to be counted, but the mistake was discovered before the results were presented to the canvassing board there.

"If something goes wrong, it's usually a poll worker or a reporting problem and it's caught," she said.

She said the state election canvassing board, headed by Gov. Charlie Crist, would be powerless to investigate what happened in Palm Beach County when it meets Wednesday to certify the election results. "Whatever the certified results are from the counties, that's what the results are."

Cohen said the county canvassing board also was legally barred from questioning the recount results.

A candidate's only recourse is filing a lawsuit in circuit court.

David Shiner, who represents Abramson, said various options are being explored. In addition to a complaint in circuit court, he said a lawsuit could be filed in federal court.

"We're talking about people exercising their right to vote," he said.



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