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flamingdem Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-24-08 03:55 PM
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79. New voting glitches raise concerns in Florida

Palm Beach problems have officials worried about potential repeat of 2000

Florida vote-counting chaos
Sept. 23: Floridas 67 counties have shelled out millions of dollars to avoid a vote-counting crisis like the one in 2000. But is the chaos over? NBCs Kerry Sanders reports.

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By Alex Johnson and Kerry Sanders
MSNBC and NBC News
updated 9:54 a.m. ET Sept. 24, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. - Voters cast their ballots in a razor-close election, and opponents head to court as a judge approves another recount.

Sound familiar?

Welcome back to Palm Beach County, where the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Story continues below ↓advertisement

With 41 days to go before the presidential election, election officials and political operatives in this heavily populated Florida county famous for overvotes, undervotes, butterfly ballots and hanging chads are worried about a repeat performance of the chaos that clouded the outcome of the 2000 presidential race.

Two recounts, and counting
Those concerns have been fueled by an otherwise obscure local judges race.

County Circuit Judge Richard Wennet faced a strong challenge from William Abramson, a local criminal lawyer, last month. When the ballots were counted, Abramson led by 17 votes out of more than 102,000.

An automatic recount was conducted, which put Wennet ahead by 60 votes. But this time, about 3,500 ballots were missing. The state elections board refused to accept the result.

Off to court they went. A state judge ordered another tally. No result was announced because, while the missing 3,500 votes were found in a warehouse, a fresh batch of 159 that were counted the first time could not be read.

Another machine recount was conducted Tuesday. It said Abramson won, but the machines kicked out 160 ballots they could not read. After those were counted by hand, the county canvassing board declared Abramson the winner. However, Wennet said he might continue the fight.

This back-and-forth has some fearing far worse in November.

We could have major problems
We have seen problems in Palm Beach County already in the primary, said Ben Wilcox, executive director of Common Cause Florida, a watchdog group. I think potentially we could have major problems in Florida again.

Its not like they didnt try to fix things after the electoral meltdown that sent the 2000 election all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

The punch cards are gone. Security cameras monitor all activity in every county election office. Random spot-checks review each ballot in 2 percent of all precincts.

But the improved system may not be much better than the old one.

Theres a lot of improvement needed here and throughout the state of Florida, said Judge Barry Cohen, chairman of the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board.

Click for related content
Live Vote: Do you believe Florida will avoid a repeat of the problems in 2000?
Latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal Florida poll (PDF)

For example, to ensure that each voter is properly qualified to vote, the state imposed stringent ID requirements. The rules say a voters drivers license or approved alternative identification must match up exactly with the voter database.

Two problems: Some drivers licenses have typos. And the voter rolls have never been proofread for errors.

Requiring to be matched up perfectly to databases which have never been tested for accuracy is simply a prescription to have people disenfranchised, said Ion Sancho, elections supervisor in Leon County, the location of the state capital, Tallahassee.
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