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Missing Ballots Mess Gets Murkier

CBS 12 News    04 September 2008

There is now a new number of missing ballots. And a cloud of uncertainty remains over a close judge's race and all voting in Palm Beach County, for that matter.

At the start of the day Thursday, we thought most of several thousand missing ballots had been located. That's what staff at Palm Beach County's elections office staff announced Wednesday night. But late Thursday afternoon, the election canvassing board heard something very different and troubling.

A count of ballots by hand Thursday tallied 100,002. That figure is 2,521 less than the number of ballots counted after the election. 2,500 the new number of missing ballots.

Thursday workers from several county departments joined staff from the Supervisor of Elections office, going through all of the boxes of ballots at the county's tabulation center. The workers were not re-counting votes in the judge's race, but simply counting the number of ballots, hoping to reconcile a discrepancy in ballot totals.

The race last week between incumbent Judge Richard Wennet and challenger William Abramson was so close, state law required a recount. But that recount by machine and hand at the tabulation center, came up with some 3,400 fewer ballots, than the initial election tally, produced mostly by scanning machines at the polls.

Late Wednesday night, after reviewing precinct totals from both counts, elections office staffers told the canvassing board they had "found" 2,700 missing ballots. They were in the boxes of ballots at the tabulation center. Human error in the recount process, it was believed, was the likely cause of the difference in ballot totals.

But Thursday's hand count of ballots has, for now, blown that theory out of the water.

The canvassing board learned Thursday the state is holding off certifying results in the judge's race, in order to give Palm Beach County more time to get to the bottom of the vote mystery.

Canvassing board members voted unanimously to start a machine count of ballots. That is counting the number of ballots only. This will allow the board to compare totals with the hand count of ballots earlier Thursday.

Also, the canvassing board authorized sending teams of county workers to search all polling locations and Supervisor of Elections offices. Another chance to find missing ballots.

The canvassing board will reconvene at midday on Friday. The board consists of County Court Judge Barry Cohen and county commissioners Mary McCarty, a Republican, and Jess Santamaria, a Democrat.

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