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Partial recount yields same vote totals   (FL)

JANE MUSGRAVE   Palm Beach Post    01 October 2008

The latest salvo in the legal fight over a razor-thin judicial race was either a dud or gave losing Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Richard Wennet ammunition to demand a new election.

Those were the wildly divergent views expressed Wednesday after Wennet's legal team conducted a recount of 262 of the roughly 102,700 ballots cast in the Aug. 26 election. Plagued by ever-changing ballot counts that prompted three recounts, the race wasn't decided until last week when attorney William Abramson was declared the winner by 61 votes.

When the 262 ballots were fed through two tabulators used during the recounts, they rejected different numbers of ballots. But, as is always done during recounts, the rejected ballots were then counted by hand. The vote totals remained the same.

Still, attorney Gerald Richman said the inconsistencies show that the machines can't be trusted.

"This is beyond my expectations of what I expected to happen," he said. "This isn't a question of human error, but machine error. We will definitely get a new election for Judge Wennet."

Brad Merriman, de facto supervisor of elections, disputed Richman's view.

Merriman said he wasn't sure why the machines would reject a ballot one time and count it the next. Likewise, he said, he didn't know why clear votes were rejected. Those questions, he said, should be answered by Sequoia Voting Systems, which sold the county the $5.5 million optical scan system.

In terms of assuring every vote counts, he said, the discrepancy is insignificant.

"That's why you have a manual recount to double-check the machines," he said. Abramson agreed.

"When you've lost twice you're grasping at straws," he said, pointing out Wennet's sole win came after the first recount when roughly 3,500 ballots came up missing. "I'm an attorney. I've been there. I've grasped at straws."

As home to the 2000 presidential election meltdown, people are suspicious about the county's ability to count votes, Abramson said.

"But this is not like hanging chads where people are arguing over voter intent," he said.

During the three recounts, few votes were rejected because officials couldn't determine voter intent, he said.

Richman, however, said he is worried about what the inconsistencies in the tabulators mean for the upcoming presidential election.

"As a voter and as a citizen I'm very concerned," he said.

In addition to the machine test, Wennet is arguing that officials violated state law by conducting three recounts when only one is allowed.

Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Francis has already ordered that the judicial race be put on the Nov. 4 ballot. If he upholds the primary results, votes cast in November simply wouldn't be counted.

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