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Election Problems Stir Bad 2000 Memories
The Associated Press

Florida elections workers were counting ballots by hand - again - on Wednesday after improperly coded ballots appeared to give former presidential candidate Rep. Dick Gephardt a decisive win in one Panhandle county.

On the other end of the country, a report Wednesday found that a computer battery problem affected about 40 percent of polling stations in San Diego County, Calif., delaying and frustrating voters who lined up to cast electronic ballots in last week's primary.

The problem occurred during the largest rollout of an electronic voting system by any local jurisdiction in the nation. Officials believe an unknown number of people did not cast votes because of the frustration caused by the malfunction.

San Diego County, like others across the state and country, was forced to change its election system because of the 2000 presidential fiasco in Florida.

With Sen. John Kerry the presumptive Democratic nominee, the glitch in Florida on Tuesday did not affect the outcome of the state's primary. But it created new embarrassment in a state that became the butt of jokes for the 2000 election and ran into more voting problems in 2002.

Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen withheld the presidential primary results about a half hour after the polls closed Tuesday because of the strange surge by Gephardt, who ped out of the race in January.

With most precincts tabulated, the Missouri congressman was shown to be leading Kerry by a 2-to-1 ratio. He received 1 percent statewide, last among the nine candidates on the ballot, while Kerry received 77 percent.

Bay County officials found that a coding system was incorrectly printed on the ballots. In the optical scanner system, voters use a pencil to mark their ions, which are then counted by machine.

"No vote was lost; every vote was counted," Secretary of State Glenda Hood said. "I don't think it in any way creates any significant concerns for future elections."

Officials were expected to finish recounting the ballots by hand later Wednesday.

In 2000, Democrat Al Gore contested Republican George W. Bush's narrow win in Florida, arguing that some votes were not counted because of problems such as partly punched, or "hanging," chads on punch-card ballots. Recounts conducted in some Florida counties were stopped by the U.S. Supreme Court after 36 days, handing Bush a 537-vote victory in Florida that gave him enough electoral votes to win the presidency.

The state also encountered voting machine glitches and other problems in the 2002 Democratic primary election. The president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, took the extraordinary step of ordering polls to stay open two hours longer than usual to make sure everyone got a chance to vote.

Florida has passed uniform standards for determining voter intent, adopted state-of-the-art technology and now leads the nation in election reform, said Kay Clem, president of the Florida Association of Supervisors of Elections.

But in a state with 9.3 million voters and 20,000 poll workers, Clem said, "Somebody is going to have a hiccup somewhere."

Diebold Election Systems, the maker of the electronic voting machines, is trying to determine the root of the problem in San Diego

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