Election Problems In Florida — 2004


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The following articles are reproduced under the Fair Use exception of 17 USC § 107 for noncommercial, nonprofit, and educational use.


[EJF comments in Courier font]


Gambling vote glitch mars tally in Broward County

Fingers pointed

Isolated problem

Other results stand

Critics speak up

Another black eye

Distrust fuels doubts on votes, Orange County's web site posted wrong totals

Department of Law Enforcement investigating voting fraud in Duval and six other counties


Gambling vote glitch mars tally in Broward County by Erika Bolstad and Curtis Morgan

© 2004 by Erika Bolstad and Curtis Morgan, Miami Herald

Amendment 4

November 05, 2004 — Broward County corrected a computer glitch Thursday that had miscounted thousands of absentee votes, instantly turning a slot-machine measure from loser to winner and reinforcing concerns about the accuracy of electronic election returns.

The bug, discovered two years ago but never fixed, began subtracting votes after the absentee tally hit 32,500 — a ceiling put in place by the software makers.

"Clearly it's a concern about the integrity of the voting system," said Broward County Mayor Ilene Lieberman, a canvassing board member who was overseeing the count. "This glitch needs to be fixed immediately." [No, it needed to be fixed when it was found in 2002. And why wasn't it found by the vaunted Independent Testing Authority?]

The problem, which resulted in the shocking discovery of about 70,000 votes for Amendment 4, a measure allowing a referendum on Las Vegas-style slots at parimutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward, came to light just after midnight Wednesday when Broward's canvassing board shut down.

Lieberman, Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes and several lawyers on both sides of the gambling amendment noticed votes suddenly disappearing on Amendment 4.

The problem was quickly traced to software in what is known as the central tabulation machine, a computer that collects data from optical scanners that read the individual mail-in ballots.

Besides reversing the Election Night outcome on a controversial gambling question, the error spurred finger-pointing and provided more ammo for critics of high-tech voting.

Florida's election chief, Secretary of State Glenda Hood, downplayed the significance of a miscount she blamed on "inadvertent human error" in the Broward elections office. [Never ever blame the voting machine manufacturers if you were the one involved in the decision to buy this equipment.] Hood stressed that double-checking procedures had caught what she described as an isolated error.

Hood maintained that the incident shows the system worked. "It's not a problem...They made the correction." [But if the voting machines worked why was a correction of this magnitude necessary and for a known bug?]

Fingers pointed


County officials blamed Election Systems & Software, the company that sold the machines and counting software to Broward.

County officials say they think ES&S failed to follow through on a problem that was brought to their attention two years ago, during the 2002 general election.

ES&S spokeswoman Becky Vollmer said the glitch — which limits the number of votes that can be counted in each precinct to safeguard against ballot stuffing — will be fixed in software updates they are submitting to the Division of Elections next year.

"This was not an error with the tabulating system," Vollmer said in an e-mail. "This was a programming oversight that caused the results reporting software to contain incorrect information for preliminary, unofficial results. No votes were lost and no other ballot questions were affected."

But Broward County Administrator Roger Desjarlais said ES&S was accountable. "I believe they had an obligation to fix it. They just have an obligation to provide a product that works." [The EJF would take the position that election officials have an obligation not to use voting machines that are demonstrably unreliable and count votes in secret.]

Isolated problem?


While Broward insisted that the problem had exposed another hidden bug in the electronic voting system, the view was different in Tallahassee.

Alia Faraj, Hood's spokeswoman, said ES&S had not previously submitted any information about the counting cap in its tabulation software, which is supposed to be certified by the Secretary of State's Office.

But she said programmers had admitted a "human error" in setting up the absentee count and said there were no reports of similar problems from any of the 15 counties in the state that use electronic systems, 11 with the same ES&S gear. Another 21 use ES&S systems to tabulate paper ballots counted by optical scanners.

Other counties that use the same vote-counting software say they've never encountered the problem and it was never brought up at the users group meetings held annually. [Since the problem was discovered by outside observers it is likely election officials in other counties simply have their heads buried in the sand and didn't want to notice any problems.]

Theresa LePore, Palm Beach County's elections chief, said her technology experts were aware of the potential issue, but that nothing like that had happened in the county, which uses different software. "As long as you know about it, you can turn it off," LePore said. [Instead, voters wisely turned Ms. LePore out of office.]

The tabulation software was set to reverse the vote count at 32,500. It was triggered when Broward counted all 97,535 absentee ballots in one mega-precinct Tuesday night and early Wednesday.

The glitch only affected Page 2 of the ballot — the one with five of the amendment questions — because it contained only statewide measures that drew enough voting to trigger the cap, county officials said. [Since only one page of the ballot was affected, and only some 70,000 votes changed, this is a minor problem?]

Other results stand [or at least so we are told]


Results on the other amendment questions were changed, as well, but, unlike the gambling question, their outcomes had not been in doubt.

When they saw the count going haywire, election officials were able to go to individual scanners feeding the main computer and obtain the correct vote count. Suddenly, they found thousands of uncounted votes that gave the gambling initiative a big boost.

Opponents of the amendment said they were suspicious of the newfound votes, especially because 94 percent of the 78,000 votes cast on Amendment 4 were in favor of the amendment. Other votes from Broward were 65 percent in favor. [94% in favor of any issue is virtually unheard of.]

"It certainly seems statistically remarkable," said state Rep. Randy Johnson, a Republican from Winter Haven who is chairman of No Casinos from Celebration.

Critics speak up


Lale Mamaux, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Boca Raton Democrat, said the miscount had proved the necessity of a paper trail that Florida elections officials have resisted for voting machines.

Broward was able to correct the count because they could simply run the absentee ballots through scanners again. That can't happen with touch-screen voting.

Wexler, an outspoken critic of Florida's election system, sued to create a paper record for manual recounts in close elections like the contentious 2000 presidential race. A federal judge rejected the suit late last month.

Another black eye


Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, chairwoman of the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, said such errors can undermine public confidence.

"The bigger picture is that it cast doubt on the accuracy of the elections," she said. To resolve any concerns, Rodriguez-Taseff said Broward should recount everything — not just absentees.

The miscounted votes were the second major flaw in Broward's election, which was also marred when thousands said they didn't get their absentee ballots in the mail.

"I wish it hadn't happened, in that we' re trying to regain credibility for this office," Snipes said. "But people will have to look at the whole issue and put it in perspective." [And that perspective includes consistent malfunctioning of electronic voting machines and incompetent election officials.]


Herald staff writers Mary Ellen Klas, Luisa Yanez, David Kidwell, Jason Grotto and Joe Mozingo contributed to this report.


Distrust fuels doubts on votes, Orange County's web site posted wrong totals by David Damron


© 2004 by David Damron, Orlando Sentinel

November 12, 2004 — More than a week after the presidential election, officials in Florida and other states are still sorting out computer-related errors in the vote, even as a Saturday deadline looms to certify the final result.

None of the problems appears likely to change the outcome. Still, the foul-ups are fueling new conspiracy theories focused on fears that millions of dollars spent on new election equipment across the nation failed to guarantee that all votes were counted.

Sometimes the problem is that votes were miscounted. That's what happened, officials say, with precinct-by-precinct results posted on the Orange County elections office Web site showing that Democrat John Kerry beat Republican President Bush by 9,227 votes in Orange.

That was off by 8,400 votes. Officials working for Bill Cowles, the Orange elections supervisor, said the correct totals, available elsewhere on the site, showed that Kerry bested Bush in the county by only 827 votes.

The cause of the error, Orange officials said Thursday, was a software program that could not tabulate more than 32,767 votes in a single precinct. On election night, officials anticipated the problem and adjusted for it, deputy election official Lonn Fluke said Thursday.

But the next day, workers failed to account for the glitch while posting precinct results online. When absentee-ballot totals exceeded the limit in one precinct, the software caused additional votes to be subtracted from Bush's total.

A similar discrepancy affected vote totals posted online for the U.S. Senate race between Republican Mel Martinez and Democrat Betty Castor. But neither online counting problem made it into the real totals sent to Tallahassee, election officials insist.

"The election results we certified to the state are correct," Fluke said. The presidential and U.S. Senate absentee results posted online were "garbage." [Apparently computer voting machine generated garbage.]

Neither miscount was enough to influence Bush's or Martinez's Florida victories. But the conflicting data was not removed from the Orange County web site until Thursday.

[Extraneous information removed.]

The man who initially discovered the discrepancy in Orange's Web precinct results is Vincent Profaci, an Apopka lawyer and Kerry supporter.

Profaci said he can swallow the software or data-input explanation offered by Orange's election office, but it still nags him that supposedly error-free machines are being counted on to decide elections.

"If these machines are counting in reverse here," Profaci said, "what else are they doing that we' re not even finding out about?"

Profaci became concerned with electronic-voting machines after seeing results in Georgia's 2002 elections that were deeply at odds with the latest polls. That sinking feeling returned when Bush won Florida and the national vote, despite exit polling data that showed Kerry running strong most everywhere.

When Profaci went to bed election night, Kerry and Castor were running ahead by thousands of votes in Orange, with one or two precincts to count.

When he awoke and checked the Web site, those leads had evaporated. When Profaci checked the supervisor's precinct-by-precinct totals, he found the different totals.

"We, the public, have no way of knowing if these machines are counting our votes right," Profaci said.

Elections deputy Fluke said that in Orange, workers did count the votes correctly election night. But the Web-posted totals were indeed inaccurate.

"What got on to the Internet...that's the only place it went wrong," Fluke said. "Which also happens to be going out to the whole world." [And in the face of conflicting data, what should the public believe?]


Department of Law Enforcement investigating voting fraud in Duval and six other counties


© 2004 News4Jax.com

October 22, 2004, Jacksonville — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) has set up a statewide task force to investigate voter fraud complaints, saying problems are popping up in so many places it doesn't make sense to investigate them separately.

The department has received complaints about voter registration or absentee ballot issues in Bay, Leon, Orange, Alachua, Broward and Miami-Dade counties and also plans to work with investigators in Duval County who are already looking into fraud allegations there.

"We' re finding that there appears to be some common thread between some of the investigations that are occurring," said FDLE spokesman Tom Berlinger. "We decided to approach it from a statewide perspective rather than a local perspective."

Officials in Jacksonville would not confirm specifics of the complaints, saying they never discuss ongoing investigations, and Duval County interim Supervisor of Elections Bill Scheu said he had not been briefed on any allegations.

"Perceptions are strong on both sides, but there have been no specific instances of voter fraud that have come to my attention," Duval County interim Supervisor of Elections Bill Scheu said Thursday night.

Many of the problems seem to be cropping up with forms turned in by groups that hire people to register new voters. An FDLE press release singled out the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, saying its "workers have been connected with the widespread voter irregularities."

"We think that a lot of this is going to be driven by financial motives where individuals were paid by the piece and turned in as much as they could," Berlinger said.

ACORN said an employee it fired has falsely reported voter fraud to get back at the organization.

"He was terminated for a number of violations of ACORN rules. He wanted his job back. We wouldn't give it to him," said Faith Gay. "He is trying to put the spotlight on the entity that fired him."

Among problems that have been reported to the state:

• Three thousand photocopied registration forms were turned into Leon County elections officials. Most switched voters' party affiliation to Republican without their knowledge.

• Alachua County learned people had their party affiliation changed to Republican against their will. The problem was discovered in a batch of 1,200 forms turned in by one man. Each of the forms registered voters as Republican.

• Two dozen voter registration forms in Duval County contained addresses that don't exist.

• At least three forged signatures were found on voter registration forms in Bay County.

• Some students in Orange County were reregistered to vote without their knowledge after signing petitions.

"We take these issues seriously because they impact the voters of our state," said Alia Faraj, a Department of State spokeswoman. "If anyone has any information on voter fraud, I urge them to please contact their supervisor of elections or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement."

The FDLE doesn't plan to contact voters as part of the investigation before the November 2, 2004, election, saying the department believes they are victims of fraud and it would rather focus on the people that tampered with registration forms.

"We are mindful that our No. 1 priority will be to protect the rights of those individuals that are eligible to vote, and allow them the opportunity to do so," FDLE Commissioner Guy Tunnell said. "Our agents will do nothing that will impede or hinder that process."

FDLE urges citizens to remain alert for signs of voter registration fraud and to protect their right to vote by reporting any suspected fraud to law enforcement.

In Florida, most violations of voter fraud are a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Each fraudulent voter application, registration, or absentee ballot can constitute a separate felony charge.



| EJF Home | Where To Find Help | Join the EJF | Comments? | Get EJF newsletter |


| Vote Fraud and Election Issues Book | Table of Contents | Site Map | Index |


| Chapter 10 — Voting Problems In The 2004 Elections |

| Next — Voter Fraud Probed In Colorado by Susan Greene and Karen Crummy |

| Back — North Carolina Takes The Lead In November 2004 Election Problems |


Last updated 6/14/09