State postpones election certification (FL)
JANE MUSGRAVE and SUSAN SPENCER-WENDEL Palm Beach Post 02 September 2008
The much-vaunted paper ballot was sold as a way to make sure every vote counted.
Instead, its debut in Palm Beach County threw the election process into turmoil as officials announced Tuesday that about 3,400 ballots that were counted in last week's election did not turn up when a recount was conducted over the weekend.
Going into the recount in a close judicial race, officials said 102,523 ballots were cast. After the recount, the number had dwindled to 99,045.
Even though Supervisor of Elections Arthur Anderson was unable to explain the new totals, the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board on Tuesday sent the results - showing veteran jurist Richard Wennet winning by 60 votes - to the state to meet a 5 p.m. deadline. The state election canvassing board was to meet this morning to certify the results, but canceled it Tuesday "due to remaining issues with the Palm Beach County final certified elections results."
Reminiscent of the controversy that erupted after the 2000 presidential election, at least one candidate and a political party leader said the only way to resolve the problem is through the courts.
"We would encourage every person who lost by a small margin to ask for a recount," said Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party. The only way to do that now is to file a lawsuit.
Judicial hopeful William Abramson, who saw his 17-vote lead evaporate, said he probably would sue to throw out the recount results.
"William Abramson is no longer the over-riding concern," he said, flanked by his attorney at a news conference outside election headquarters. "It's about the people who voted and the people of the community and the sanctity of the process."
He was initially concerned that the vote total in the judge's race had inexplicably ped from about 90,700 to 87,800. Now, he said, the question is what happened to the 3,400 ballots.
"People should be very, very angry," Abramson said. "What steps have been taken to ensure every vote has been counted?"
Anderson said he was mystified by the missing ballots and the results in the circuit court race. "It's either a problem with the precincts being double-counted in the early tabulations or some of the ballots not being included in the recount or a combination of the two," he said.
Despite the discrepancies, the local canvassing board did not meet to approve the results. Instead, papers were delivered to board members to sign.
County Court Judge Barry Cohen, chairman of the board, said there were no numbers on the documents he signed. County Commissioner Addie Greene said she didn't notice whether vote totals were listed.
County Commissioner Mary McCarty, who also signed the documents, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
While it's unusual for board members to sign blank documents, Anderson said, it was done in this case "to expedite the process."
Both Cohen and Greene also said they were unaware of the discrepancy in the number of ballots cast.
Anderson said he knew about it before the exhausted board left the tabulation center after 1 a.m. Sunday at the end of the manual recount when its members declared Wennet to be the winner in the circuit court race.
Noting the sleep deprivation that set in during the two-day recount, Anderson said: "I don't know at what point they were tuned into those dialogues or discussions early Sunday."
The elections chief said neither he nor his staff returned to work Sunday or Monday to resolve the disparity.
Given how hard his staff had worked during the recount, Anderson said: "We felt people needed to be treated humanely and given the day off."
He insisted voters should not worry about the process. "It's a great example of democracy at work," Anderson said.
Others, however, are not as certain.
Doug Jones, a computer science professor at the University of Iowa who has reviewed problem elections throughout the country, said a small variation in the results of a recount is not unusual.
"But 3 percent?" he asked. "That's bad."
Jones said there are a variety of ways Anderson and his crew can audit the results to find out what happened. Analyzing returns in individual precincts would show where problems occurred. Officials also can review the logbook voters sign on election day and compare them with precinct vote totals.
Anderson said his staff has begun that process, but few clues have been found. Rather than finding one or two precincts in which votes were double-counted, which would have inflated the original ballot count, staffers believe the problem may be widespread, he said.
He said he also is talking to officials at Sequoia Voting Systems, which sold the county the $5.5 million optical-scan system.
Michelle Shafer, a spokeswoman for Sequoia, said the company would try to help the county. In an e-mail, she said the company's involvement would be limited.
"Sequoia Voting Systems was not contracted to be onsite for this recount and were not contacted regarding any issues until earlier today," she said. "We will not speculate on the issues in Palm Beach County as we were not present and the county must complete their audits and internal investigation."