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Missing ballots case may go to court (FL)
Palm Beach Post. September 4, 2008. By JANE MUSGRAVE

Just when Palm Beach County election officials thought they had solved the mystery of the missing ballots it blew up in their faces again.

A welcome report that 2,700 of the 3,478 missing ballots had been found on Thursday was replaced with the grim news that workers had recovered only 957 ballots.

While officials were to dispatch "an armada" of county workers Thursday to scour roughly 780 polling places for the ballots that appear to have disappeared between last week's primary election and a weekend recount, few said they expect any will be found.

Instead, most agree there is only one way the counting and recounting will end: in court.

"Even if they found the additional ballots it would be suspect where they came from," said attorney Peter Sosin, who is representing judicial candidate William Abramson in what promises to be a legal battle with his opponent Circuit Court Judge Richard Wennet.

Two candidates in a state House race attended a meeting of the county canvassing board and questioned the validity of the entire election. They indicated they may join Abramson and Wennet in court.

After the Aug. 26 primary, elections officials said 102,523 people voted. The recount, however, turned up only 99,045 ballots. Leading by 17 votes going into the recount, Abramson ended up losing by 60 votes.

If the elections office can't determine how many ballots were cast, how can the results of any of the close races be valid, asked losing District 78 candidates Steve Nichol and Steve Perman.

Canvassing board members said any of the candidates are free to sue, but they will focus only on the judicial race.

The state canvassing board is to meet at 9:30 a.m. today to certify the results of the primary elections in all of Florida's 67 counties, except the one between Wennet and Abramson.

The ongoing controversy spurred Secretary of State Kurt Browning to fly in Wednesday. He said Gov. Charlie Crist told him to offer whatever assistance was needed to reconcile the ballot totals and restore voter confidence, particularly in light of the looming November presidential election.

Jeff Darter, technology manager for the elections office, at midnight Wednesday told Browning and the local canvassing board that he had recovered 2,700 of the lost ballots and voiced confidence the rest would be found by morning. Early Thursday, the board also ordered a hand-count of all the ballots.

Dozens of county workers spent the day counting. At the end they had counted 100,002 ballots.

Darter late Thursday said he didn't actually "find" 2,700 ballots. Instead, he compared the precinct totals from election day with those from after the recount and mathematically determined that 2,700 ballots hadn't been recorded in the recount.

Phil Foster, an executive from Sequoia Voting Systems, said he didn't trust the hand count, noting that there were many chances for mistakes to be made.

Sequoia sold the county the $5.5 million optical scan system that debuted countywide in the election. Noting that firm officials were not asked to participate in the primary, checks made on Thursday indicated the machines were working properly, he said.

To check the hand count, the canvassing board ordered that the ballots be counted by machine. They are to meet at noon today to learn the results, find out whether any ballots turned up and plot a course.

Attorney Gerald Richman, representing vacationing Wennet, said the process was disturbing. He said the system seems fraught with minefields, from human error to machine malfunctions.

As he left the meeting, he said he was going to finally call Wennet, who left on vacation believing he had won the election. "I'm going to ruin his cruise," he said.

Then, he asked: "How are we going to survive November?"


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