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Ballot Crease-Vote Counting Controversy Grows   (FL)

Chuck Weber    WPEC TV   03 November 2008

Vote counting problems caused by ballot creases prompted a local state representative to ask for a hand count of the absentee ballots in her race.

State Representative Mary Brandenburg, Democrat of West Palm Beach, went before Palm Beach County's canvassing board on Monday. She raised new concerns about creases on absentee ballots and how they could affect vote tabulation in her bid for re-election, as well as other races.

"My race is on the fold," said Rep. Brandenburg, "so I care whether it's a machine or a person casting that vote."

When you vote absentee, you have to fold, or crease, your ballot before placing it in the proper envelope for mailing or ping off at an elections office. Last week as tabulation of absentee ballots got under way, canvassing board members discovered sometimes the creases are being mistaken for votes by the tabulating machines.

When the incorrect reading results in a double vote, the equipment kicks out the ballot. The canvassing board reviews the ballot, recognizes the error, then orders a duplication on a non-folded sheet of paper.  Workers send the duplicated ballot back through the machines. It's more work, but the correct vote is recorded.

Monday Rep. Brandenburg raised the possibility of wrongly read ballots going undetected.  She said if a voter did not vote in a race, but a machine mistakenly read a crease as a vote, no one would ever know. When the machines record a single vote in a race, they do not reject those ballots.

An elections office staffer and a representative of equipment maker Sequoia both acknowledged to canvassing board members, Brandenburg's scenario is possible.  However, the elections staff member said it would not happen often.

"I'm asking the canvassing board to make sure that the machines are not voting for voters," said Rep. Brandenburg, in explaining her request for a hand count of the absentee ballots in her race. "The question is should we count every ballot correctly? This is America and I think we should count every ballot correctly."

Canvassing board members seemed sympathetic. But after calling the Secretary of State's office for an opinion, the board denied Brandenburg's request for a hand count.

Brandenburg said afterward she is disappointed. She said potentially misread absentee ballots could play a role in close races in Tuesday's election.

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