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Human error possible in voting glitch

Published November 9, 2006

TAMPA - The cause of a late-night glitch that hindered votes from being retrieved on three electronic machines remained unclear Wednesday, but a Hillsborough elections official said it could have been a simple human error.

Workers in Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson's office experienced the problems just after 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday. An employee with Sequoia, the company that makes the machines used here and in Pinellas County, fixed the problem in about 45 minutes and the votes did get counted, officials said.

Votes recorded on the machines are downloaded onto cartridges that are later read at the elections center. It's likely that a Hillsborough elections worker tried to pull out a cartridge before it had finished reading the data, said Chuck Smith, systems administrator for the elections supervisor.

"It could be as simple as that," Smith said.

The exact cause of the problem may never be known, he said. It's a situation that's happened at least twice since Hillsborough began using the touch screen Sequoia Voting Systems machines in 2002.

"It's a fairly rare occurrence," Smith said.

When it does happen, there are several backup plans, Smith said. The choices entered by voters are duplicated on backup programs, resulting in at least four copies of how a person voted. When there's a problem retrieving the votes one way, Smith said, elections workers use one of the alternatives.

Times staff writer Rick Gershman contributed to this story. Kevin Graham can be reached at 813 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com.

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