Friday, September 3, 2004

Ballot-counting mistake in Palm Beach County deemed simple human error

By Cadence Mertz, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, September 3, 2004

Palm Beach County, Florida, experienced a "human error" problem this week while counting its ballots. Luckily for Palm Beach, the "human error" happened with their paper absentee ballots. Turns out an election worker made a mistake and a stack of absentee ballots were counted twice.

It's only logical to expect that "human errors" will also occur with paperless electronic voting systems. When they do, and when the problems are supposedly corrected but election officials can't provide the public with verification that the corrected results are accurate, it is inevitable that voters will lose confidence in the accuracy of election results.


Excerpts from the Sun-Sentinel story:

Palm Beach County election officials on Thursday downplayed ballot-counting discrepancies as they officially certified polling results a few days early in anticipation of Hurricane Frances.

An apparent double-count of 6,701 absentee ballots capped off a difficult week for Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore, who lost her bid for re-election in Tuesday's primary. But elections officials said charges that problems with the absentee ballot count amounted to a flaw in the system were overblown.

The discrepancy was the result of simple human error. And the fact that it was found and dealt with so quickly demonstrates the system is working, said County Judge Barry Cohen, chairman of the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board.

"The final certification today means that we got it right," Cohen said Thursday.


Elections workers ran into trouble with the absentee ballots when an employee ran a batch through the counting machine and forgot to reset the counter. That meant the machine reported the two batches of ballots instead of one, officials said.

Workers ran the ballots back through the counting machines and came up with the correct tally, County Attorney Denise Nieman said.

The kind of glitch that happened this week does not qualify as a recount under the legal statutes, Nieman said. A recount, legally, occurs if votes were not counted or if a candidate requests it, she said.

But when election workers counted the ballots on Wednesday, one result of the 70 races decided in Tuesday's primary was overturned. Robert Beasley defeated Tom Mullings by a little more than .5 percent to win a seat on the district 85 Republican Executive Committee.

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