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Volusia ballots may get 2nd look
A group asks to review some of the county's votes for a nationwide election audit.

By Kevin P. Connolly | Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted November 18, 2004

DELAND Black Box Voting, a Seattle-based group fighting for improved voting systems, wants to inspect paper ballots from more than 25 percent of Volusia's precincts as part of its nationwide audit of the Nov. 2 presidential election.

It is also raising the prospect of a lawsuit to contest the results of the election in Volusia County, though the group's executive director said Black Box Voting isn't trying to overturn the outcome of the presidential election. The group's goal is to ensure "integrity in the system" nationwide, said executive director Bev Harris.

She is following up on more than 3,000 public-record requests her group sent to counties across the country late Nov. 2 seeking a range of information, from memos about voting systems to computerized logs of electronic votes.

The group suspects security vulnerabilities in voting equipment and software from Diebold Election Systems, a leading vendor of such equipment across the country. Diebold couldn't immediately be reached for comment, but Volusia officials say their system, which uses optical scanners to read paper ballots, isn't vulnerable.

State records show Diebold as the vendor for 30 of Florida's 67 counties. In Central Florida, Diebold counties include Volusia, Seminole and Brevard.

Deb Garrambone, chief deputy supervisor of elections for Seminole, said Black Box Voting sent a "technology related" public-record request that was not clear. Seminole, which also uses optical scanners, asked for clarification and is waiting for a response.

According to Lake Elections Supervisor Emogene Stegall, her county has not received any election-related challenges or public-record requests from any group or person. Lake is the only Central Florida county that uses iVotronic touch-screen voting. Osceola officials also said they haven't received any such requests.

Harris, whose meeting with Volusia officials Tuesday was recorded by videographers working on a documentary called Votergate, wouldn't reveal the names of all the counties her group is focusing on first, though she confirmed she is scheduled to get information from St. Lucie County today.

The filmmakers also taped Harris' supporters finding documents from Election Supervisor Deanie Lowe's office in the trash. Lowe said the documents were duplicates of precinct-based reports poll workers printed after the polls closed on Election Day.

Lowe said she's not required by law to keep the duplicates and that she has the originals.

In Volusia, Harris is citing apparent discrepancies such as precinct-based Election Day results that differ from last week's final tally as reasons to scrutinize the county's ballots and voting equipment.

But Lowe said it's not logical to expect those sets of numbers to add up because the final tally includes such categories of ballots as absentee and provisional.

"You've got to compare apples to apples if you expect to come up with a bushel of apples," Lowe said. County Judge Steven deLaroche, a member of Volusia's elections canvassing board, said it seems Black Box Voting is on a fishing expedition in the wrong county. After all, Volusia had to count its ballots twice once on Election Day, and then a close judicial race prompted an automatic recount. They checked out.

In Tuesday's meeting, Lowe offered to let Black Box Voting inspect ballots from three precincts at no charge if it wanted to compare the paper ballots with the precinct-based reports from optical-scanning machines.

Harris asked to inspect ballots from 50 precincts because those are the ones she suspects have problems, based on her initial review of the paperwork she got this week from Volusia County.

But Lowe said Harris couldn't inspect that many for free. The estimated cost, mainly to pay for two county employees and security, won't be known until Harris tells Lowe which specific precincts she wants to inspect.

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