Just 18 Votes Separate Candidates in Circuit Judge Race Where Votes Are Said Lost in Re-tally on Sequoia Optical-Scan Voting Systems
'Severe Repercussions, Dire Consequences for November Election and All Elections,' Says Broward County Election Supervisor Candidate...
By Brad Friedman on 8/30/2008, 1:52pm PT  

-- Brad Friedman, from Denver, CO...

16,632 votes are unaccounted for in a Palm Beach County election recount following last Tuesday's state primary, according to Ellen H. Brodsky, non-partisan candidate for Supervisor of Elections in Broward County and a long-time Election Integrity advocate.

The machine recount was completed early Saturday morning in the Circuit Court race between Judge Richard Wennet and challenger William Abramson, Brodsky reports via email. The machine recount was completed at 4:30am, in the race in which Wennet and Abramson were separated by just 18 votes in the initial machine tally. Palm Beach County recently changed voting systems again, moving from faulty touch-screen voting systems to --- apparently --- faulty optical-scan paper-ballot systems made by Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc. [PDF].

The still-unexplained "disappearance" of votes in the machine recount "has severe repercussions," Brodsky wrote in an email alert this afternoon describing the re-scan of some 90,000 ballots.

"With 16,632 less votes on summary report," she writes, it "portends dire consequences for the November election and all elections."

The question remains as to how many votes were lost in other races on the same ballot which were not included in last night's re-tally. Florida state law disallows hand-counting of paper ballots which have already been counted by machine, other than in special circumstances. We'll see if this ends up being one of those circumstances. Theoretically, a hand-count would determine the correct totals for the race, where the machine-count has misreported totals. [UPDATE: Palm Beach Post reports the machine recount was close enough to allow for a hand-count of over votes and undervotes. See more in the update at end of this article.]

Sequoia's voting machines have seen notorious failures of late, including lost votes and other problems, around the country...

Most recently, their touch-screen systems misreported vote totals on Super Tuesday in New Jersey. That, after some of their machines refused to start up at all that day, causing embarrassment when Gov. John Corzine's attempt to vote was delayed while the machines were down for trouble-shooting.

Vote-counting problems have become notorious across the Sunshine State since 2000 and continuing through last Tuesday's state primary. Earlier this week, news broke of thousands of ballots not counted by the Diebold voting systems in Sarasota County, which has also recently switched to paper ballots following the still-unexplained loss of some 18,000 votes on ES&S touch-screen voting systems in a 2006 Congressional race that was ultimately decided by just 369 votes. Some 10,000 ballots were counted by hand this week in Sarasota, following this most recent failure. Major problems on Diebold systems were also seen in Hillsborough and Brevard counties this week as well.

Last week, Diebold finally admitted that all of their voting systems, used in 34 states across the nation, lose votes during upload to the tabulator, even though no warning message is given for the loss to system administrators.

Ohio's Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner announced last month that she is suing Diebold over the problem voting systems. [NOTE: We sat down with Brunner for an exclusive in-depth interview with her in Denver. We'll have that interview posted at The BRAD BLOG next week.]

In 2000, Volusia County Florida reported negative 16,022 votes for Presidential Candidate Al Gore, as tabulated on voting systems made by the company which would become Diebold Election Systems. The unusual negative vote tally was never explained, but the discovery of the odd reported total led to Gore's rescission of his earlier concession to George W. Bush on Election Night. That race in Florida led to 36 protracted days of political fighting, in which Republicans were eventually successful in their bid to see the U.S. Supreme Court order the state's ballots from being counted at all.

A post-election tally [PDF] by a media and academic consortium found that had all of the state's ballots been counted, by any conceivable counting standard, Al Gore would have been named the winner in Florida, and thus, would have become the President of the United States.

[Note: We're on the road back from Denver, and may not be able to update this item until later tonight, at best, with any additional details.]

UPDATE 9:50pm PT: Palm Beach Post reports varying numbers of note in the recount, including that "the candidates had lost 4,700 votes" on the "larger counting machines" said to be "more sensitive". Their report also says that 16,500 of the 90,000 ballots in the contest, which had been reported by the machines as either overvotes (too many selections in the race) or undervotes (no selections in the race), were reviewed by hand:

After the machine recount, the candidates had lost nearly 4,700 votes. But Cohen said there was no controversy because all of those ballots were to be reviewed by hand and counted.

The larger counting machines are more sensitive, he said, and reject more ballots.

(Those "larger counting machines" would be the high-speed optical-scanners used to count mail-in absentee ballots at county headquarters, rather than the precinct-based op-scan machines. If they "are more sensitive" and lose more votes, that would seem to indicate that more absentee ballots are miscounted than those scanned at the polling places. As most counties around the country use a similar system --- high-speed op-scanners for mail-in absentees --- does this indicate absentee ballots are counted at a lesser (unequal) rate than those counted at the precinct?)

Two-person teams from the elections office, each watched by a supporter of one of the candidates, examined an estimated 16,500 ballots. Those were ballots on which a voter did not check either candidate - called an undervote - or the vote was not clear enough to be picked up by the machines.

Attorney Darren Shull, a Wennet supporter, said he saw ballots on which the vote appeared clearly, and wondered why the counting machines did not register them.

"Sometimes you're looking at it, going, 'Huh?' " Shull said. "You don't know why."

Are those 16,500 ballots the ones referred to by Brodsky? Or are the 4,700 that the Post reports as "lost" during the high-speed machine re-tally? We're trying to get more info from from Brodsky, but have yet to hear back on several follow-up questions. We'll do our best to continue to keep up even as we're on the road out here...

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