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Indian River County election miscount stirs up worries about Nov. 4  (FL)

Elliott Jones and Jim Turner     TCPalm.com    30 August 2008

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY The election night error of double counting more than 5,000 votes would have been caught before the county's canvassing board confirmed the final totals Thursday, with or without a tip from a poll worker, Supervisor of Elections Kay Clem said Friday.

The state Division of Elections asked Sequoia Voting Systems of California, the maker of the new optical scan voting system, to submit a report by next week explaining how the error could have happened.

Sequoia officials said the problem was caused by an election office worker.

Meanwhile, Clem's primary and general election opponents said that in a better managed office, the mistake would have been caught the night of the election.

"This was basic they should have caught that," said Cathy Hart, former deputy elections supervisor, fired by Clem, who ran against her in the election. Hart's loss to Clem narrowed from 565 votes to 501 after the discovery of the doubling of 40 precinct votes.

Colman Stewart, Clem's Democratic opponent in November, said the mistake should raise voter's questions about confidence in Clem.

"My take on this (is) a leadership kind of problem, not a technical error," Stewart said. "She should have made sure. ... This is much too important a process for you to tell us this is a technical error. This should not be. She should have made sure that this was taken care of."

Working quickly to instill confidence the November general election will avoid such a "hiccup," Clem said her staff was reviewing the election night numbers when the error became apparent at the same time that a precinct worker called to say the numbers were incorrect.

"We thought we were fine when we ran the test," Clem said. "We think that what happened was my IT person made the wrong click on the mouse."

Phil Foster, Sequoia vice president of business development, said the mistake only would occur again if the test of the modem system that will be used to electronically phone in the results is repeated. And, he said, there is no need to repeat the test.

"They had a good plan," Foster said. "The software and hardware didn't malfunction. It broke down to one inadvertent operations error."

The elections office will use the modem system in the November general election, but now the office will chart each electronic cartridge as each one is delivered to the elections headquarters.

"I wish it hadn't happened, but it did," Clem said. "There's nothing I can do to change it now. It's a tough spot to be in, but would you rather have someone with experience in this spot or no?"

Bryan Garner of WPTV NewsChannel 5 contributed to this report.

How 40 precinct votes got counted twice:

Althea McKenzie, who has been a poll worker since 2004 in Indian River County, was checking the numbers on the supervisor of elections Web site Wednesday when she realized the results from her precinct location were double what was recorded at the precinct. "I was, like, there is no way this could be right," McKenzie said.

McKenzie's precinct, 403, Thompson Elementary School on 18th Avenue, unofficially was listed as having 508 votes cast Aug. 26, when precinct workers submitted 254.

At first she thought it may have been her precinct that was off, but the more she looked at the overall totals, the more many looked a little high. "My assumption was that it was a computer error or a wild disparity, so I called and I brought it to their attention."

She called the state Division of Elections to report it. She also called Indian River County Supervisor of Elections Kay Clem, whom, she said, responded to her concerns.

The elections office had clerks from all 54 precincts send results to the elections headquarters by phone to test a quicker modem system that will be used in the November general election.

Clerks from 40 precincts were able to get the numbers in within the 45 minutes allotted for the test.

The test results were saved onto a backup file and d from the election results page of the system.

An information technologies employee in the elections office hit a button that moved the test results back into the election results page of the system.

Clerks from all 54 precincts hand-delivered election night results on electronic cartridges to the elections headquarters.

Indian River County Supervisor of Elections, Sequoia Voting Systems


This is not the first Florida problems to occur with the new optical scan equipment from Sequoia Voting Systems of California.

In June, Palm Beach County's Supervisor Arthur Anderson was criticized when about 700 votes temporarily went uncounted during a West Palm Beach City Commission election. Palm Beach and Indian River are the only two counties in the state that chose the Sequoia system after the state mandated all counties use optical scan systems.

In that case, the delayed counting of the votes occurred when a mechanism on the optical scan machines prevented them from being tallied.

State officials and Sequoia Voting Systems officials blamed Anderson's office, saying elections workers weren't familiar enough with the d software.

Voters in Palm Beach County voted Anderson out of office Aug. 26.

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