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Software glitch blamed for delay in election results
By CATHY ZOLLO for the Naples Daily News. November 4, 2004

The touchscreen voting machines were fine in Collier County's general election.

It was the software on a separate computer that is used for tabulating results that was home to the problem.

That problem delayed election results in the county by about three hours Tuesday night.

The glitch went something like this:

Elections officials pulled voting information off the ES&S IVotronic machines and fed it into the Dell computer where it would be made into a report about voting results.

The Dell had been used to go through some dry runs ahead of balloting on Tuesday, but those numbers were supposed to be d from the machine, or "zeroed out." But a file containing numbers that had not been d was added to the vote totals, throwing off the results.

The problem showed up when officials compared the first report off the Dell with another report pulled together from the same sources of information but on a different computer.

"It made my numbers look weird, and I said OK stop, we're not going to pump out a bad report," said Gary Beauchamp, deputy assistant supervisor of elections for Collier County.

Beauchamp is quick to point out that the data coming in from polling stations was fine.

Once representatives from Omaha, Neb.-based ES&S figured out the problem, they "zeroed out" the machine, and the numbers then met what Beauchamp called a "reasonableness check."

That is they matched the same report generated differently on a separate machine using a spreadsheet.

Beauchamp said that while elections officials fixed the glitch they are still awaiting word from ES&S about what caused it so they can work on a plan to avoid a similar problem in future elections.

Election night glitches weren't confined to Collier County.

When Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington arrived at work Wednesday, there were still more than 40,000 votes left to count from Tuesday's election.

In addition to provisional ballots, there were thousands of absentee ballots that had to be recopied before they could be read. Harrington said the demand for absentee ballots more than 52,000 were sent out and 47,134 returned meant some people had to be sent copies of the absentee ballot.

"It was unfortunate we couldn't get the ballots from the vendor on time, so we sent duplicate ballots rather than have people not be able to vote," she said.

Those ballots had to be reproduced onto ballot paper the computers could read.

That's on top of reviewing the provisional ballots and the questionable signatures, overvotes and undervotes among the absentees that the canvassing board does for every election.

Harrington said there will likely be more than 40,000 votes added to the 194,135 that were counted Tuesday.

She also said things ran smoothly during the busiest Election Day in Lee County history.

"All in all, I don't think it was too bad," she said. "There were long lines, and we did have a power outage."

A motorist knocking out a power pole can't be planned for, however, and battery backups on voting machines lasted until the power was restored.

Bob Geltner, Democratic committeeman and lawyer, said there were some small issues during voting, like poll workers refusing to allow poll watchers to view voter rolls and neglecting to read names loud enough for poll watchers to hear.

"That was the only real problem," he said. "And it wasn't that serious."

The best thing about Tuesday's election, perhaps, was that no major race was close enough for the 40,000 yet-to-be-counted votes to matter. The Matlacha-Pine Island fire board and one Lee Memorial Health System board race are all that might be affected.


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