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Few problems reported as Broward vote continues 
By Mike Turnbell, Craig Lewis, Jean-Paul Renaud, Jeremy Milarsky. Ian Katz & Buddy Nevins | Staff Writers
Orlando Sentinel  November 2, 2004, 3:05 PM EST

Several glitches were reported in Broward County on Tuesday as voters flocked to the polls in what looks like record numbers.

Voters at a voting station in Pompano Beach discovered at the last minute their precinct, 1C had been moved from the Pompano Beach Civic Center to a nearby church. The discovery was made after an unknown number of voters had cast provisional ballots at the Civic Center.

Precinct 1C has 1,200 registered voters. A similar problem was discovered Tuesday morning at Precinct 72Q in Weston, which has 1,920 voters.

In the Pompano Beach case, neither the clerk nor the voters said they were aware of the address change.

The Broward Elections Office was attempting to identify the voters who had cast their votes, telephone them and then have them go to the new 1C polling precinct at St. Stephen Lutheran Church, 2500 NE 14 St., to cast official votes. If they don't re-vote, the ballots cast at the Civic Center will not be counted.

Other sites were reporting that some voters were trying to wrongly turn in their absentee ballots at their precincts. Absentee ballots must be turned in to the main Broward Elections Office by 7 p.m. Do not, the elections office said, try to turn them in at a polling precinct.

At least 21 voting machines in Broward County malfunctioned and were replaced Tuesday, and some votes on at least one of them might have been recorded inaccurately, election officials said.

An improperly calibrated machine at the polling place at 2501 Coral Springs Dr. in Coral Springs was used by an undetermined number of voters before it was replaced, said Carl Fowler, pubic information officer for Broward's Emergency Management Agency.

If voters on that machine had reviewed their ballots before hitting the red "Vote" button, they could be certain their votes were recorded accurately, Fowler said.

However, if they did not review their ballots, it is possible that some votes were recorded inaccurately. If a machine is not properly calibrated, a vote intended to be cast for one candidate can be recorded for a different candidate. "I think the chances that happened are slim, but it's a possibility," Fowler said.

The machines were taken to the Voting Equipment Center in Fort Lauderdale, where the votes cast on them were to be counted. County officials said they did not know how many votes had been recorded on any of the malfunctioning machines.

Many of the other 20 machines suffered problems with electrical power, said Gisela Salas, Broward's deputy supervisor of elections. Most of them had been used by some voters before being taken out of service.

Salas said she did not know how many of the machines had the same calibration problems as the Coral Springs machine.

Calibration can be a problem with electronic voting machines, she said. "That's why it's important for voters to go back and review their ballots."

Despite the problems, county officials said they were pleased with the overall performance of the voting machines. A total of 5,283 machines were used in Broward County.

Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes spent the mid-morning hours visiting two key polling locations and a telephone help-line center at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.

Snipes mingled with voters at the Rick Case Honda dealership in Weston about 11 a.m. She praised Case for staging a convenient place for voters to cast their ballots. Case, for example, had a trash-can full of bottles of drinking water and ice. Inside the showroom where brand-new Hondas had been cleared out to make room for touch-screen voting machines Case had set up a table of free coffee and doughnuts.

Snipes briefly spoke with reporters, downplaying any election problems and pointing out that all 777 precincts open on time at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

"I think the day's gone really well up until this point," she said.

There were, however, reports of some voters showing up at the wrong precinct on Tuesday, but Snipes said they were few in number.

In other news, Snipes said her office had not budgeted for the late crush of absentee ballot requests. She said about 4,300 ballots had been mailed out on Friday by Federal Express. She said the cost for sending each ballot was considerably more than the 83 cents postage cost for regular mail.

"In order to cover that, we will need to make some adjustments," she said.

Snipes also confessed that she personally had not cast her ballot by Tuesday morning. She said she had her absentee ballot, sealed in an envelope, and planned to cast it by hand at her office in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Meanwhile, the call center at Nova Southeastern University fielded 1,600 calls in the first two hours after the polls opened at 7 a.m. today, said Evan Kolodny, supervisor of registration for the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office.

Operators handled 887 calls in the first hour and another 715 between 8 and 9 a.m.

The calls were from poll workers with questions about voter registration. In some cases, voters showed up at the wrong precinct or weren't registered at all.

The election call center at Nova Southeastern University in Davie resembled a scene from a telethon with phones ringing incessantly this morning.

"It's mostly questions involving a change of address or helping someone who has shown up at the wrong precinct and needs to find out where to go," said Kolodny.

When the polls opened at 7 a.m., voters were greeted with long lines at many predominantly black precincts in Broward County.

Willie Turner was one of an estimated 150 people who waited 90 minutes to cast his ballot for John Kerry at Parkway Middle School in Fort Lauderdale. He was in line before 7 a.m. He said he believed his vote will count but expressed concern about the lack of a paper trail.

Minor problems plagued the polls Tuesday morning. Shawntavia Hammonds moved, re-registered but could not find her new voter card. So lived down the street from Miramar Fire Station No. 70 and thought she would vote there but she was not on the rolls, poll workers told her.

A Florida Voting Rights Team attorney made calls for her to assist in finding her proper polling place.

Monitors from Election Protection were in place at polling places such as the Miramar firehouse, Golden heights Church of God, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School to assist voters with everything from finding polling places to casting provisional ballots.

Many of the voters, were like Hammonds, determined to vote against the president.

"I want to make a difference,'' said the 26-year-old unemployed mother of two who was laid off her customer representative job during the hurricanes. "I need the economy to change. It's time for a change. I'm looking for my polling place and I will find it and vote.''

She said she wanted to support the minimum wage amendment.

In Southwest Ranches, the parking lot was full at a church serving as a polling site and voters were lined up along the length of the building. But waits were shorter than the ones endured by some early voters.

``We only waited one hour,'' said Pete Vargas, who voted at a Honda dealership west of Fort Lauderdale. ``When you think of what people went through with those five-hour waits, this is nothing.''

As polls throughout the county opened, some were predicting more long lines, emotional outbursts from partisan activists and a host of Republican lawyers challenging the eligibility of voters in this heavily Democratic county.

Snipes, meanhwile, estimated the total turnout would be more than 70 percent. She said 500,000 would go to the polls today.

Snipes called the opening of 777 Broward precincts "a triumph," considering there were no reported equipment problems with 5,500 voting machines.

"I'm relieved this first step is over," she said. "I'm thrilled."

She said 150 "special" Broward sheriff's deputies have delivered early voter lists to the precincts, where clerks will have to verify that today's voters are not on those lists to prevent anyone from voting twice. That verification process will take extra time to move each voter through, she said.

"That probably will have some effect on the lines," she said.

Shortly after the polls opened, a member of the Broward County League of Women Voters, Jane Gross, escorted a group of three international observers into the EOC.

The observers, members of the parlimentary board within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe represented the countries of Greece, Turkey and Norway. The organization is lead by U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miami.

One of them, Panos Kannenous of Greece, said, "We will be awaiting the results."

More than 2 million Floridians have cast their ballots through early or absentee voting since the polls opened Oct. 18, said Jenny Nash, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's Office.

"I'm pleased and confident we will have a good election," Snipes said. "Every eligible voter will vote and I hope every eligible voter will have a positive voting experience."

State Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale, said he was concerned the day could turn into a mess to rival the 2000 presidential election, when thousands complained they were disenfranchised and the contest had to be decided by the Supreme Court.

"If [Snipes] is right about a 70 percent turnout, we should do all right. If we have an 80-85 percent, we will have chaos. We could be voting until after midnight," Geller warned.

To deal with such an unprecedented onslaught of voters and the fervor some feel about the presidential race, Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne said he would have 200 extra deputies on standby.

Long lines are expected at all 777 voting precincts, especially before 9 a.m., during lunchtime and after 5 p.m.

Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but anybody in line at the close will be allowed to vote.

Lawyers for the Republican Party went to court Monday night to request an injunction demanding Snipes be ordered to treat GOP poll watchers fairly and to ensure those who cast ballots during early voting won't vote again today.

Broward Circuit Court Judge David Krathen refused to issue the injunction after an hour-long hearing, finding that the Republican Party of Florida failed to show that there was any impending crisis warranting court action. Attorneys for the Democratic Party as well as for the Supervisor of Elections Office argued that Snipes is following the law and a complete list of early voters will be at the precincts when they open at 7 a.m. to prevent double votes.

"[Snipes] will run a good election," Krathen told a courtroom packed with attorneys, poll watchers and reporters. "It may not be perfect. As much as we try to be perfect, none of us can be perfect ... I can't micromanage the election. I don't think anyone can micromanage the election."

Democratic Party Chairman Scott Maddox said it was no surprise that the GOP was suing in Broward.

"They are targeting Broward because Broward is mostly Democratic," Maddox said.

Although the injunction was denied, chief GOP Florida lawyer Hayden Dempsey said his watchers would be at the polls today searching for voter fraud.

GOP poll watchers will be looking for felons ineligible to vote. They will also be searching for voters registered in two states and voters not casting ballots in the proper precinct.

They intend to concentrate in largely minority and condominium polling places, fortresses of Democratic voting strength. Democrats are placing poll watchers at the same sites to counter the GOP.

In minority-heavy Lauderhill, there are more than 19 Republicans and Democrats signed up as poll watchers for the City Hall precincts. By comparison, there will be nine poll watchers in Weston's Town Center.

Snipes sent a last-minute memo to her poll workers providing them with some guidelines on how to decide whether a person is ineligible.

On the issue of dual voting, Snipes reminded poll workers that being registered in two states is not illegal, but voting twice is. She said a challenger must show the person has already voted to prove a challenge's validity.

Snipes told poll workers not to accept as evidence the controversial felon voter roll the state threw out this year. The GOP's Dempsey said his poll watchers would use only criminal records from the Department of Corrections.

Despite Snipes' assurances that missing absentee ballot problems had been resolved with the late re-mailing of thousands of new ballots last week, the Postal Service and some voters said they were still dealing with election office snafus.

Enola Rice, spokeswoman for the Postal Service in Fort Lauderdale, said Snipes mailed out 2,400 ballots on Saturday even though she had publicly said the mailing would be completed Friday and had agreed with the Postal Service in September that ballots had to be in the mail by Friday to ensure voters could receive and return them in time to be counted.

Rice also said many of the 2,400 ballots arrived unsealed from the elections office, but that postal workers hand-sealed them to prevent the ballots from falling out. And while Snipes said all ballots being sent outside the county were going out by Federal Express overnight delivery, Rice said the Postal Service received ballots on Saturday to send by regular mail going to destinations as distant as Italy and California.

Naoma Stewart, 86, a retired lawyer who divides her time between Ohio and Fort Lauderdale, said her replacement ballot arrived Saturday by Federal Express but without the promised prepaid return envelope. Ashley Kogan, a Broward resident away at law school in Michigan, said her mailing also arrived Saturday with the prepaid return envelope but without a ballot.

One American University law student flew home to Hollywood on Monday to vote when he didn't receive an absentee ballot after numerous requests to Snipes' office. "I'm missing five classes just to vote, but my professors understand," said Derek Rooney, 26, who is voting for John Kerry.

As the race wound down Monday in Broward, a few political dirty tricks surfaced.

A phony palm card attributed to a nonexistent Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club was distributed in condominiums and recommended that voters cast ballots for parental notification for abortions and against the increase in the minimum wage. A second bogus palm card, alleged to be from the Democratic Party, makes recommendations for School Board candidates when, in fact, the party takes a neutral stance when Democrats run against Democrats. Democratic poll workers also reported receiving phone calls not to report to their precincts today.

Other voters reported receiving sample ballots, designed to look like the official ones from Snipes' office but containing John Kerry campaign literature. On Oakland Park Boulevard and Powerline Road, a man waved an obviously fake Kerry-Edwards sign which contained the words: Support gay marriage.

Petey Kaletta, president of Broward's League of Women Voters, echoed the wishes of many.

"I am hoping and praying that it won't be a close election so it will be over with," Kaletta said.

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