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County officials' good day turns into rough night
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A relatively smooth election day turned into a tedious night for candidates and voters trying to follow along as Palm Beach County votes were tabulated Tuesday.

As the results slowly came in, the percentage of precincts that had been tallied in each race was not clearly listed on the Supervisor of Elections' Web site. The county's government cable station, Channel 20, which was broadcasting the results, did not have the information either.

Without those numbers, which were being listed through the evening by other counties including Broward and Miami-Dade, it was impossible to know how close each candidate was to victory - especially in municipal races.

By 11 p.m., the Web site said 610 of 780 precincts had reported. A map on the site showed the results for each individual precinct, but the numbers were not broken down by race. Unless voters and candidates had a list of all the precincts in the race, there was no way for them to know how many precincts were reporting.

Throughout the evening, Supervisor of Elections Arthur Anderson refused to answer questions about the problem.

This was similar to a 2006 glitch when Anderson endured two days of criticism for failing to list precinct totals as votes were counted. After officials gave varying election-night reasons why precinct tallies weren't reported, Anderson said the next day that he didn't release the precinct information because he thought it was misleading.

At 10:42 p.m., Anderson finally addressed the issue, saying he wanted to move forward with overall tabulations of votes, rather than report precinct-by-precinct, which would have slowed down the gathering of votes.

Less than 10 minutes later, precinct-by-precinct results appeared on the county government television station.

Anderson later said a defective early-voting cartridge resulted in the slowdown to produce precinct results.

"We had one defective cartridge which prevented us from completing the process," he said.

Although a backup tape allowed elections staff to recoup the results, Anderson said the problem was so significant it may lead to the elections office having to reprogram all of its voting machines.

Meanwhile, for most Palm Beach County residents, voting Tuesday was quick and painless. But some complained that poll worker mishaps, problems with voting equipment and incorrect party registration prevented them from casting a ballot.

Wellington resident Arthur Dahm said he showed his voter registration card Tuesday morning, and poll workers confirmed his Republican party affiliation.

Still, when he voted at Landings Middle School, he received an electronic voting card that only allowed him to vote for the property tax amendment.

"The next thing I know, it says 'thank you for voting,' and the card pops out," said Dahm, 59, a county resident for 12 years.

In central Palm Beach County, residents who normally vote at the fairgrounds showed up to find their precincts had been moved because of the South Florida Fair.

Anderson's office had mailed letters, dated Jan. 9, informing voters the fairgrounds precinct was moved to Christ Fellowship Church at State Road 7 and Southern Boulevard because of the fair.

"Some people did go there (the fairgrounds) out of habit," Anderson said.

The precinct changes affected 2,046 voters, the overwhelming majority of whom were not confused.

Serena Eastland, who lives in Breakers West, said she arrived at the Royal Palm Beach Village Hall to vote at 8 a.m., but was told she had to go to the fairgrounds.

Eastland said she went to the fairgrounds and was told, "There's no voting here, lady, this is the fair." A gate worker told her he'd turned away 23 people.

She traveled back to Royal Palm Beach, where she was told to go to Christ Fellowship.

At 10 a.m., Eastland was finally able to cast her vote.

"I know they lost voters," Eastland said. "Not everyone has time to run around like that."

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh was among the voters who had problems with Palm Beach County's touch-screen machines.

On his syndicated talk show Tuesday, Limbaugh said he was trying to vote when the screen seemed to freeze or "stick" on the list of presidential candidates.

"I hit 'Next' and it didn't go there," said Limbaugh, who lives in Palm Beach and often recounts the county's electoral foibles on his show. Then he hit the "Back" button and "got my candidate page again with the vote already recorded there. So I said 'hmmmmm, I wonder if this is going to count twice."


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