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Upgrade could have prevented Palm Beach County voting glitch   (FL)

JENNIFER SORENTRUE and HECTOR FLORIN   Palm Beach Post   31 January 2008

A defective voting cartridge halted the tabulation of all Palm Beach County results Tuesday night and forced elections officials to stop reporting how many precincts had been tallied in each race, Supervisor of Elections Arthur Anderson said Wednesday.

The defective cartridge, which contained early voting results, could not be read by the tabulation system. Elections officials could not continue to tally results until the problem was fixed, Anderson said.
To correct the problem, officials had to remove a backup cartridge from the touch-screen voting machine that was used to cast the results included on the defective cartridge - delaying election night totals from popping up on the elections office's Web site and the county's government television station.

Anderson said he decided to stop reporting how many precincts had been tallied in each race because of the problems.

The omission drew tough criticism from local leaders across the county Wednesday and caught the attention of officials around the state. For several lawmakers in Tallahassee, the problem provided comic relief as they watched results pour in from across Florida.

"I think some people, when it comes down to election day, they tend to be somewhat shortsighted," Anderson said. "They overly focus on how quickly results are reported. ... This office performed in our standard fashion. Needless to say, that doesn't say that you didn't have some bumps in the road."

Tuesday's election was the second time Anderson has been unable to provide precinct totals since he was elected in 2004.

He endured two days of criticism in 2006 for failing to list precinct totals as votes were counted.

Without precinct totals, it is impossible to know how close each candidate is to victory.

On Tuesday night, county elections officials gave varied reasons why precinct totals were not included in the tabulations posted on their Web site.

Broward and Miami-Dade counties showed the number of precincts tallied for each race. Broward elections officials use the same computer software as Palm Beach County.

Anderson said Wednesday that his office has had problems with defective voting cartridges during at least one other election but thought it "had been adequately addressed."

"We just thought it was such a low probability of it happening again," he said.

The cartridge problem can be fixed by upgrading software and reprogramming all of the touch-screen voting machines.

Anderson said his office opted not to take those steps for Tuesday's election partly because the voting machines will be replaced with new equipment this year.

There were 4,000 machines used in Tuesday's election. It would have cost time and money to upgrade the software and reprogram all of them, Anderson said.

But because of the cartridge problem, Anderson now plans to upgrade the system before it is used again in municipal elections in February and March, he said.

"The stakes are so high that we don't want to risk that occurring again," he said.

Among local officials, the defective cartridge was a painful reminder of the problems that have plagued the county's elections office since 2000, when the infamous "butterfly ballot" began the presidential election fiasco.

"We expect better," County Commissioner Jeff Koons said. "It's been consistent. Every election has some major screw-up."

For 21/2 hours Tuesday night, Koons stood inside the Florida League of Cities' headquarters in Tallahassee, watching CNN coverage of Florida's election with about 35 other county and city officials from across the state.

Precinct results rolled in from the counties, except for some in the Panhandle that run on Central Standard Time.

And Palm Beach County.

"It's unacceptable and embarrassing," Koons said Wednesday from Tallahassee, where he's attending meetings. "They were laughing at Palm Beach County again. ... I took a lot of grief in Tallahassee."

State Rep. Susan Bucher, D-West Palm Beach, who is challenging Anderson to become elections supervisor, also watched CNN's coverage.

"I was just disappointed because this is not a new problem," Bucher said. "I was horrified to watch national news call out Palm Beach County again."

Hypoluxo and Royal Palm Beach representatives spent hours at the elections office waiting for results.

"We were sitting there for a long time not knowing what they were showing up there (on county government's Channel 20) because it said zero precincts," said Barbara Ross, Hypoluxo's town clerk since 1979.

She said she's never seen such confusion at the elections office.

County Commissioner Karen Marcus, a member of the canvassing board, stayed at the elections office until midnight and also expressed frustration over the lack of precinct data.

"It's real frustrating to the public, to all of us," she said Tuesday night. "We'd like to see some results."

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