Florida vote process suspicious

Electronic voting was supposed to solve Florida’s election woes, but it has turned up some more problems. In the recent primary, vote tabulation in Hillsborough County slowed to a crawl, leaving the decision in some major races unknown until early morning of the following day.

Results were held up for hours as election officials tried to figure out why their computerized tabulation system went awry. Elections Supervisor “Buddy” Johnson hastened to reassure voters that the slowdown did not mean any votes were lost or miscounted.

He said the whole thing was because adjustments needed to be made to the system. It just couldn’t handle all the cartridges coming in from the polling places, he said.

“We’re learning a lot about the speed that the system can function,” Johnson said. “Our server just slowed down. We’re not really sure why. I have no lack of confidence. It’s not broken.”

Hillsborough appeared to be the exception in an otherwise smooth primary. The most intensely scrutinized aspect of Florida’s primary, its touch-screen voting machines, did well enough in other areas to begin to restore confidence in the state’s electoral process, according to election officials.

“I would certainly hope that as we continue to deliver successful elections…that people will see everyone is working very hard to get rid of those ghosts of 2000,” said Glenda Hood, Florida Secretary of State.

One working very hard to see things went the right way was Theresa LePore, supervisor of elections in Palm Beach and a candidate for re-election. According to investigative reporter Greg Palast, LePore decided to supervise her own election in the Aug. 31st vote.

LePore was the one whose ballots delivered a large vote for Pat Buchanan in the Jewish precincts in November 2000. Back then, Palast reported, she failed to do the hand count that would have shifted the White House ownership from blue to red.

This time, LePore began counting absentee ballots a couple of days before the election. Florida law says the supervisor of elections in each county is supposed to certify poll watchers to observe the tabulation.

LePore skipped that requirement and decided to tally the votes herself without any observers. Although 37,000 citizens asked for absentee ballots, LePore claimed she had only received 22,000 when she started to count. What about the remainder?

Palast wrote: “Don’t ask. Though she posts the names of requesters, she won’t release the list of those who have voted, an eyebrow-raising deviation from standard procedure.”

He said LePore had no intention of counting all the absentee ballots she got. She, and she alone, would decide which ballots had acceptable signatures. Democrat Art Anderson, running against her, had asked she use certified hand-writing experts, instead of her hand-picked assistants, to check the signatures.

While federal law requires LePore to permit a voter to correct a signature rejection when registering, it doesn’t require her to allow challenges to absentee ballot rejections.

So how did she know how people were voting? Simple, Palast said, she had the voter’s party affiliation printed on the outside of each return envelope. That makes it much easier to decide which ones are valid, no?

What does this imply for the big election in November? Millions of Floridians have turned to absentee ballots as a way to avoid the hazards of high-tech voting machines. Florida and other states report more than a 400 percent increase in requests for absentee ballots because of fear of the new computerized voting machines.

If there’s no safety in the absentee ballots, what about the computerized machines?

The LePores of the country have that all figured out. LePore installed her machines over the objections of the state’s official voting technology task force.

Palast said: “If you’re wondering why the experts told her not to use the machines, I’ll tell you–because The New York Times won’t. It’s not because the voting specialists are anti-technology Luddites. The fact is that Florida counties using touch-screens have reported a known error rate 600 percent greater than the alternative, paper ballots read by optical scanners. And those errors have occurred–surprise!–overwhelmingly in African-American precincts.”

LePore’s performance earned the approval and support of Gov. Jeb Bush. Together, according to Palast, they intend to keep the vote in their state “clean”…and “white.” They have said “no” to the Democrats’ request for paper ballots as an option.

In Leon County, they insisted on paper ballots, and not a single vote went astray, according to Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho. Critics of the high-tech machines say they are not reliable because there is no paper trail that can be manually verified to check the votes during a recount.

An administrative law judge agrees. He said an agency rule barring recounts of votes cast on touch-screen machines violates a state law mandating manual recounts in close elections. Is Florida stacking the deck once again? Considering the last election with the same governor, go figure.

Source: Tampa Tribune, Greg Palast.com

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