Thursday, November 4, 2004

FL: Defective software 'lost' votes

By Erika Bolstad, Miami-Herald, November 4, 2004


Thousands of new votes on some constitutional amendment questions were discovered early Thursday, potentially forcing a recount on the question of a South Florida vote on slot machines.

As absentee ballot counting wound down after midnight in Broward County's elections warehouse, attorneys scrutinizing the close vote on Amendment Four noticed that vote totals changed in an unexpected way after 13,000 final ballots were counted.

Election officials quickly determined the problem was caused by the Unity Software that pulls together votes from five machines tabulating absentee ballots.

Because no precinct has more than 32,000 voters, the software caps the total votes at that number. From there, it begins to count backward.


Attorney Ron Book, who represents the pro-slots group Floridians for a Level Playing Field, said he believes the new Broward votes, along with about 21,000 just-counted absentees from Palm Beach County, will give Amendment Four a ''yes'' margin of about 86,000 votes. Final Miami-Dade numbers are not yet available.

The error only affects the count of absentee votes on countywide questions. In this election, it only affected one page of the ballot, including amendment questions four through eight.

The glitch was discovered two years ago, and should have been corrected by software manufacturer ES&S of Omaha, Neb., according to Broward County Mayor Ilene Lieberman.

''I was so angry last night,'' Lieberman said. She spoke to representatives from ES&S early Thursday morning, and later was having a spirited telephone conversation with Secretary of State Glenda Hood.

ES&S said it had been trying to fix this software problem since it first came to their attention in Broward in 2002, but isn't able to get certification for the change from the state.

An attorney for the Secretary of State's office disputed that on Thursday, saying that fixing this problem is not something that needs state certification.

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