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37 votes may be lost in Palm Beach glitch


Associated Press   03 November 2004


WEST PALM BEACH - Nine voting machines ran out of battery power and nearly 40 votes may have been lost in Palm Beach County, the first major problem reported on Election Day in the state that was the epicenter of the election fiasco four years ago.

The nine machines at a Boynton Beach precinct weren't plugged in properly, and their batteries wore down around 9:30 a.m., said Marty Rogol spokesman for Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore.

Poll clerk Joyce Gold said 37 votes appeared to be missing after she compared the computer records to the sign-in sheet. Elections officials won't know exactly how many votes were lost until after polls close.

She said voters seemed "very distressed" at the prospect of losing their votes.

"When it happened I was really panicking. They were panicking," Gold said.

Florida spent $32 million to reform its voting system after the state put the 2000 presidential election in limbo for 36 days. One infamous problem occurred in Palm Beach County, where voters said a confusing "butterfly ballot" designed by LePore caused them to vote for the wrong presidential candidate.

Touch-screen machines may eliminate a repeat of many of the 2000 problems, but the last presidential election drew so much attention that Tuesday's voting took place under unprecedented scrutiny.

Critics say the ATM-type machines used by more than half of Florida's voters in 15 counties are vulnerable to tampering and glitches. U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Democrat, unsuccessfully sued to add a paper trail to the machines, which he says cannot meet a state requirement for manual recounts.

Ben Wilcox, a spokesman for Common Cause, said the organization's hotline has gotten more than 15,000 calls from voters in the state.

"It's hard to really say at this point whether there's going to be the overall disaster that there was in 2000," he said. "I do think we will have new election related issues to work on and address following this election."

Richard Schultz of West Palm Beach wasn't confident votes would be properly counted. "I think there can always be fraud with computers," he said.

Some trouble was reported at one county that doesn't use touch-screens. About half of the 1,500 paper ballots at a polling place in Seminole County got wet, and elections supervisor Dennis Joyner said he didn't know how it happened. The wet ballots were replaced quickly by a fresh shipment of ballots.

Voters seem more determined than ever to get to the polls after the last presidential election that put President Bush in the White House over Democrat Al Gore by a mere 537 votes. About 2 million Floridians cast early or absentee ballots - nearly 2? times the number of people who voted early in 2000.

Lines were long again Tuesday as millions turned out to decide the race between Bush and Democrat John Kerry. The secretary of state's office reported smooth poll openings statewide, though Orange County officials said one precinct opened 11 minutes late.

Even before Election Day, Republicans and Democrats accused each other of election fraud. Independent groups blamed election supervisors for delayed absentee ballots and mishandled voter registrations. Voters complained of long lines and poorly trained poll workers in early voting.

Barring an unlikely landslide, the end of the wrangling is not in sight.

In Seminole County, Circuit Judge Nancy Alley granted an injunction Tuesday to a Republican poll watcher who sued Democrats to stop the distribution of fliers threatening party poll watchers with legal action if they challenged voters.


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