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Clem says twice as many votes were miscounted in Indian River County than initially reported (FL)

Jim Turner    TCPalm    06 September 2008

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY The number of votes counted twice in the Indian River County election now stands at 10,737 which is double the votes the county elections office reported a week ago.

Now, elections officials are implementing a number of steps to ensure the same mistake doesn't happen during the Nov. 4 general election.

Supervisor of Elections Kay Clem originally said 5,189 votes had been counted twice, but said she "misspoke" when she released the earlier number.

Clem accepted that the double-count total exceeded 10,000 shortly after the county's election Canvassing Board completed an audit Thursday that the state now requires to verify the optical scan voting system worked in the primary.

The double-voting error was corrected two days after the Aug. 26 primary. No primary races were altered by the mistake.

The fix only lowered the overall turnout of registered voters for the primary from 31.24 percent from the more euphoric 43.59 percent. The final number of votes cast is 26,824, not 37,202 initially reported.

Human error initially caused votes in 40 precincts to be counted twice.

"We have identified some procedures for the next election," said County Judge Joe Wild, a member of the Canvassing Board.

First, there won't be another test of the voting equipment on the night of an election.

The county will use the phone system that was tested the night of the primary, but also require each precinct clerk to hand deliver an electronic version of the results to the election headquarters.

Second, the office will make paper copies of the two results so they can be compared election night.

Finally, fewer people will be allowed in the election's office vote-counting area so there is less distraction for the computer technician.

For Canvassing Board members, the important thing is that in the end, the certification and auditing system didn't allow the mistake to slip through the review process.

"The system worked, we had a redundancy, the back ups identified a problem, we found it, we corrected it and have an accurate vote," said County Commissioner Peter O'Bryan, also a member of the Canvassing Board. "It was unfortunate that the mistake was made, but the system caught the mistake."

The cause of the double-count was because an elections technician Gary Gordon said he failed to adequately clear electronically phoned in results as the office tested the modem method of recording the election night results.

"In hindsight we should have a lot more controls in place," said Gordon, who noted that in the last two years, the county has used two different voting systems and three different versions of computer software.

Indian River County Supervisor of Elections Kay Clem defended the county's decision to continue to use Sequoia Voting Systems for the conversion to the state required optical scan system.

"I've had difficulty making people understand this," Clem said. "(Florida Secretary of State) Kurt Browning sent me a letter ... that said 'we are going to buy your machines, we are negotiating the price for the vendors that you use, and we will buy your machines for $387,000.' The other option was to buy a whole new system for $2 million bucks. And we are cutting our budget by 15 percent."

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is developing new standards for voting systems every two years, she said. "And I have to buy new equipment for voters with disabilities. And I imagine we're going to have more changes and equipment. So I chose to wait."

Indian River County voters used the punch card method for more than a decade before the county ed Sequoia for the touch screen system first used in 2002.

Indian River and Palm Beach are the only counties in the state to use Sequoia for optical scan voting.

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