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Palm Beach County's missing ballots appear to be found  (FL)

Mark Hollis     South Florida Sun-Sentinel  12 September 2008

Palm Beach County's missing ballot mystery is solved.

Investigators searching for nearly 3,500 missing ballots from the Aug. 26 election say they have located a "substantial number" and perhaps nearly all of the unaccounted-for ballots.

Despite rumors, the ballots hadn't been mistakenly dumped in a landfill or left behind at voting precincts. Rather, they were found in the county's vote-tabulating center near West Palm Beach.

"The ballots were found in this room, not in garbage bags, not in the trunks of cars," lead investigator Brad Merriman, an assistant county administrator, told reporters Thursday.

The tabulation center, a concrete-block warehouse near the Palm Beach International Airport, is where a detailed resorting and recounting of ballots revealed that several boxes of ballots from voting precincts simply were not recounted during an Aug. 29 and Aug. 30 machine and hand recount, and thus, were considered lost.

Additionally, an unspecified number of other ballots from precincts across the county have been found in boxes containing ballots that had been recounted, county officials say.

Many of the ballots, investigators said, were found amid batches of ballots that were in boxes containing so-called "undervotes" and "overvotes" in a disputed, razor-close judicial race. Those ballots were rejected as unreadable by machines because voters had either voted for both candidates in that race, neither candidate, or had scribbled on the ballot in a way that made it difficult for the vote to be deciphered.

Why these ballots were not recounted or found sooner remains unclear, and subject to the ongoing county investigation.

But county leaders, who have been pestered by political groups and elected officials demanding urgent state action to rectify the ballot-counting debacle, said they are heartened by the initial results of the probe of what went wrong here after the Aug. 26 vote.

"People are feeling pretty good right now," Commissioner Mary McCarty said. "Optimism is reigning supreme."

While the Aug. 26 vote was Florida's first widespread use of new optical-scan voting equipment, Thursday's announcement provides more evidence there weren't counting problems with the equipment. Rather, the troubles, Merriman said, may have been "math problems" by polling workers, as well as confusion in the sorting and resorting of ballots.

Details about the investigation are to be announced today. Only rough details were provided Thursday.

"We have identified that there were some ballots found but not counted during the recount," Merriman said at a press conference. And when asked how many have been found, he refused to provide specific number but said that it is "a significant number."

On Monday, county investigators will submit recommendations in preparation for the Nov. 4 general election.

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