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Voting glitch prompts warning

SARASOTA COUNTY Poll workers are to remind every voter to look out for the 13th Congressional District race on the electronic ballot after at least four people complained that their initial votes for Democrat Christine Jennings weren't recorded.

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent gave the order by e-mail, calling it "critical." She told the Herald-Tribune she believes a very small number of the 24,000 early voters overlooked the 13th Congressional District race because it "is sandwiched in between the Senate and the governor's race."

Dent said her office will review ballot design on the county's touchscreen voting machines to see if the problem can be avoided in the future, but added that more voters correctly fill out touchscreen ballots than paper ballots.

The county uses a paperless touchscreen voting system, and a number of high-profile glitches around the state and nation have added to some voters' inherent distrust of touchscreen voting.

The Miami Herald reported last week that three early voters there said their votes for a Democrat were shown as votes for a Republican.

A proposed charter amendment on Sarasota County ballots would require the county to switch to a paper-ballot, optical-scan voting system by 2008.

The voters who complained say they picked Jennings, but the 13th Congressional District had no vote registered for either Jennings or Republican Vern Buchanan when a screen reviewing their votes came up.

The voters all said the touchscreen machines allowed them to go back to the 13th District race and make a ion, and their vote was recorded properly in the end.

Dent, the county's top elections official, said it is a good reminder for voters to carefully look over the review screen before hitting the red "vote" button and finalizing their votes.

"They need to go through each and every review screen," she said.

"On some of the ballots there are more than one review screen because of the length of the ballot."

She said that if voters think their vote in any race wasn't registered or they have any problem, they should ask the poll workers for help.

"Poll workers are there to help the voters," from making mistakes, Dent said. "It's always an effort between the poll workers and voters."

Dent said after she received the complaints, she checked the machines that were used and found them to be correctly calibrated.

But voters who complained say it was not user error, either.

Ellen Fedder of Longboat Key said she's confident she voted for Jennings correctly the first time.

She said she almost hit the "vote" button before her eye caught the review page warning that that no vote had been recorded in that race.

Fedder now worries that other voters might just hit the "vote" button without reviewing their choices.

"Make sure you are casting votes," Fedder said.

"I don't care if you're Republican or Democrat."

David Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for state representative for District 69, said the same thing happened to him when he voted Friday in Venice.

He said he's sure he went through the ballot carefully and was particularly interested in voting for Jennings, whom he had campaigned with. When his review page came up, his vote for Jennings hadn't been recorded, he said.

Alan Bandler Of Longboat Key said the same thing happened when he voted in downtown Sarasota.

"I asked the poll person, 'Is something wrong here?'" Bandler said. "I voted, and I know I voted and it didn't show up."

Poll workers have incident report logs to fill out if anyone has a problem, Dent said. There is also a telephone bank for workers to call, and those are recorded in a central location.

Dent said she's not worried about the 13th District race being affected because of the small number of complaints compared to the 24,000 people who had participated in early voting as of Friday morning.

There were only 6,100 early voters in this year's primary. Dent said the number of early voters this year could rival the 33,000 early voters in the last presidential election.

The county elections office mailed out more than 25,000 absentee ballots, Dent said, and so far more than 19,000 have been returned.

Dent is estimating a 70 percent turnout for the election, which is about average for Sarasota County in a midterm election.

Dent said there will be no recount of the 13th District race unless total votes for Buchanan and Jennings are within half of a percentage point.

A recount looking at undervotes and overvotes would only be triggered if the total votes in that first recount are within a quarter of a percentage point.

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