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Glitches tracked as vote lines shorten
Thousands continue to cast ballots early while the state technology office looks at Monday's delays.
Published October 20, 2004  St. Petersburgh Times

TAMPA - Lines were shorter and voting was quicker around the Tampa Bay area Tuesday, the second day of early voting, but questions persisted about what knocked out computer systems at polling sites a day earlier.

"It's been going as smooth as silk," Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson said Tuesday as he toured east Tampa early voting sites. "I think as long as voters are confident the process is working, they will turn out in record numbers."

Some voters in Pinellas and Hillsborough waited in line for as long as 30 minutes.

But the delays were much worse Monday, when voters abandoned long lines because of computer glitches that renewed questions about the state's preparedness to handle the 2004 general election.

By Tuesday, the state's technology office had begun an investigation of reported elections computer problems to determine whether the state's system is reliable.

"We are looking into it to see if what happened was on the state level or is a local issue," said Carla Gaskin, communications director for the state's technology office.

"We want to make sure our state network is up and functioning."

After the disputed 2000 presidential election, decided in Florida by 537 votes, state lawmakers outlawed antiquated punch-card balloting.

Florida's counties invested millions in touch screen and optical scan voting machines, but some voters couldn't get to the machines Monday because poll workers experienced computer problems that prevented them from verifying registrations.

In Hillsborough and Pinellas counties on Monday, voters simmered and election staff laptops sat idle when computer service was lost for up to three hours.

The Pinellas elections office diagnosed the loss of its laptops' connection to the registration database as a problem with the firewall, according to information technology manager Jim Armstrong. He said the remedy involved tripling broadband capacity.

In Hillsborough, officials said a routing problem with the Florida Information Resource Network knocked out Internet service around the state. FIRN is the state's network providing service to county school districts, colleges and universities and county libraries, where many early voting sites are located.

Johnson, the former state legislator who was appointed Hillsborough elections chief last year, and Rogelio Dean, Hillsborough's director of information technology, both announced Monday that elections laptops went silent because of the failure of Internet routing equipment at FIRN.

But the company that handles Internet service for FIRN, Hayes E-Government Resources, denied Monday and again Tuesday that its system was responsible for any Internet service gaps that delayed early voting in Florida.

"Our system has been up all day," said Karen Martinoff, president of Hayes, when contacted late Monday afternoon.

On Tuesday, as the state's technology office began looking into the problem, Martinoff said her company still had no evidence its equipment had been responsible.

In Hillsborough County, 550 persons a day cast ballots at early voting sites in the Aug. 31 primary. On Monday, despite the computer delay, that number jumped to 3,857, Johnson said, and was on pace to top 3,500 Tuesday.

In Pasco County, there were 1,473 voters Monday and another 1,487 Tuesday.

In Citrus County, more than 1,300 voted on Monday, with another 1,238 voting Tuesday.

In Pinellas County, 3,236 people voted Monday, and Tuesday's total was unofficially 3,389.

Pinellas elections officials provided bottled water left in coolers for early voters who waited outside in the sun at the East Lake Library.

At the noon lunch hour at the Supervisor of Elections service center off 49th Street, there was no waiting. Twelve touch screen voting machines were available and voters were sparse.

"We've had fewer voters here than any of the sites, and this is the largest facility," Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark said.

Clark reported only one significant problem Tuesday: At Tarpon Springs City Hall, officials found an unidentified briefcase out front and delayed opening the polls until 8:30 a.m. - half an hour late.

"Because of the world we live in, they had to evacuate the building," Clark said.

At the College Hill Library in Tampa, at least five people came in but were turned away because their names were nowhere to be found on registration rolls. None of the would-be voters disputed the lack of registration data, said voting site manager Louise Brantley.

"I think that shows the interest that's out here this year," Johnson said. "It shows that people are energized about this election."

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