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Nearly 700 West Palm votes not tallied election night  (FL)

THOMAS R. COLLINS     Palm Beach Post    28 June 2008

WEST PALM BEACH The votes for three precincts weren't counted on election night after Tuesday's special city commission election, prompting the candidates to ponder the reliability of the new optical-scan system as the county heads toward a busy election season culminating with the presidential vote in November.

Nearly 700 votes from three precincts - 14 percent of the total cast - were added into the final results released by the supervisor of elections office after the standard post-election audit Wednesday and Thursday.

The uncounted votes included those from Ibis Golf & Country Club and Riverwalk, two gated communities that produced the highest vote totals in the race. The third precinct was Ironhorse, another gated community.

Under the new totals, Kimberly Mitchell, who served as District 3 commissioner through March, remained the winner. But retired technology company executive Gregg Weiss vaulted into second place, and real estate attorney Rebecca Young finished third.

"The fact that they could not get this right in this small election gives me really grave concern about what's going to happen in a very important national election," Mitchell said. "That's a lot of votes to have not counted the first time."

The county primary election is Aug. 26, and the general election is Nov. 4.

Weiss said he is considering asking for a public inspection of all 4,792 ballots but will first try to talk with Supervisor of Elections Arthur Anderson about the issue. As of Friday evening, he hadn't received a return phone call, he said.

"Woo-hoo. I'm going to have to go out and celebrate tonight, I guess," he said, referring to his new second-place finish. "Are they sure they got them all?"

During the audit in the two days after the election, three cartridges containing vote totals were labeled "suspended," meaning their votes hadn't been counted on election night when all the cartridges were brought to a tabulation center to be "read" by vote-counting machines, said elections office spokeswoman Kathy Adams.

After the audit, they were read and the votes were added to the totals. The cartridges were secure and accounted for at all times, Adams said.

In the end, the system worked the way it was supposed to, she said. The results posted on the elections office Web site and on the county's cable TV channel are unofficial until after the audit, she noted.

"That's why it's marked unofficial, because when they do the audit, they find out if anything was not included," Adams said.

She said the office didn't know why the cartridges weren't read properly the first time. She said it was possible that one reader wasn't working properly and that all three cartridges were read by that reader.

"That's one of the things that they're researching now," she said. "That was the fortunate part of being able to have an election like this, before the primary."

Mitchell said she thought something was wrong when she called the supervisor of elections office to get the precinct-by-precinct results and was told they wouldn't be ready until next week, which would have been unusually late.When she pressed the office and finally got the totals, she saw the numbers were higher.

"I was like, 'Hey, this isn't the number they told us,'" she said.

Young, who also said she was given an incomplete list of absentee voters by the office during her campaign, said the episode shakes her confidence in the system.

"It raises serious issues about the integrity of this system and this office," she said.

Young also was disturbed Tuesday by what she described as a lack of privacy, having to slide the ballot into the scanner with others being able to see her votes.

"I think there's a privacy problem in this voting process," she said. "They're going to have to come up with some kind of a canopy, some kind of a something."

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