State may give Palm Beach County more time to solve mystery of 3,400 missing ballots (FL)
JANE MUSGRAVE and STACEY SINGER Palm Beach Post 03 September 2008
The Palm Beach County Canvassing Board will meet at 4 p.m. today and talk will likely turn to what happened to about 3,400 ballots that somehow disappeared between last week's election and a weekend recount.
The Florida Division of Elections also is trying to determine whether it can give the county extra time to sort out the mess.
While Florida law gave counties until 5 p.m. Tuesday to certify the results of the Aug. 26 election, state officials are determining whether they can give Palm Beach County extra time since county officials can't explain the discrepancy, said Jennifer Krell Davis, a spokeswoman for the state elections office.
Tallahassee attorney Barry Richard, a constitutional law expert, said state election laws have changed substantially since the 2000 presidential election debacle.
However, he said, one issue that Florida Supreme Court did resolve in one of numerous lawsuits that swirled around that election was that form should not trump substance.
"A voter shouldn't be penalized because of mistakes by public officials," he said, paraphrasing the ruling.
Because of that, he said, he would expect state election officials "would be wary of imposing a strict deadline when the effect would be to throw out otherwise valid votes."
At least two members of the canvassing board said they weren't aware of that ballots had been lost until Supervisor of Elections Arthur Anderson certified the election results on Tuesday.
After the election, he reported 102,523 ballots were cast. After the recount, the number fell to 99,045.
The discrepancy turned up when a recount was ordered to decide the razor-thin margin in a race between Circuit Judge Richard Wennet and his challenger William Abramson. While Abramson went into the recount with a 17-vote lead, he ended up losing the race by 60 votes.
In the process, the number of votes counted in the race fell from about 90,700 to 87,800. Abramson is threatening to sue in hopes of throwing out the results of the recount and finding out what happened to the missing ballots.
Commissioner Mary McCarty, who sits on the canvassing board, said she suspects someone at the elections office misplaced a box of ballots.
The election marked the first countywide use of an optical scan system. It replaced touch-screen machines, that were criticized because there was no paper ballots to verify election results.
Workers, McCarty said, aren't used to dealing with so much paper.
"I don't believe anybody stole the ballots, she said, "I just think they somehow left a box out somewhere."