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System error doubles vote count in most Indian River County precincts  (FL)

Elliott Jones    TCPalm.com     31 August 2008

A system error resulted in doubling the number of votes counted from most precincts in Tuesday's election in Indian River County, election officials found Thursday.

But a computer recount showed the same winners won although by much smaller totals, according to an unofficial recount by the county's election Canvassing Board. It included two county judges and a county commissioner.

County officials have until Sept. 2 to certify the final results to the state.

On Thursday, several candidates, such as unsuccessful Supervisor of Elections candidate Cathy Hart and sheriff's hopeful Bill McMullen, who lost to Deryl Loar, showed up at the recount to see if results would change.

The county on Tuesday used its new optical scan voting system where paper ballots are fed into the scanning machine. And for some reason either human or computer ballots were counted twice in 40 of county's 54 precincts, said Supervisor of Elections Kay Clem.

Prior to Tuesday's final count, Clem said, election officials tested a new modem-phone system for relaying election results quickly to the Election's Office from the precincts. In 40 precincts it worked, but those results didn't get cleared from the counting system in the county's main Election's Cffice.

They remained hidden in the system, Canvassing Board members said.

So the numbers unknowingly got counted then officials were adding up the overall election results, said Canvassing Board member County Judge David Morgan.

It wasn't until Thursday that the problem was discovered, Clem said.

A precinct clerk called in asking why the election totals for a precinct were much larger than what the precinct sign-in sheets showed. At the same time, Clem said, she and other office workers began sensing something was wrong.

Now Clem is trying to find if the problem was a system problem or human error in her office. She has alerted the state and is calling in representative of the company, Sequoia Voting System, that made the county's system.

On Tuesday, two representatives of the company were on hand for the election and nothing was noticed. Also, Clem said, the system didn't send up a warning that ballots were being counted twice in the precincts.

"It is a new system," said Commissioner Peter O'Bryan. "Anytime you have a new system you have a bug or two."

He sees no reason to replace it.

Hart, who worked in the elections office until last year, faults the Sequoia system. She advocates replacing it.

Still, "I'm accepting that (her election defeat)," she said. In the preliminary tally Thursday, she lost to Clem by 418 votes, compared to 1,056 in the Republican primary.



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