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Archive for Wednesday, November 15, 2000

180,000 votes cast in Florida didn’t count

Newspaper survey shows 3 percent of all ballots were disqualified for various reasons

November 15, 2000


— Up to 180,000 ballots were cast but did not count in Florida's tightest presidential race ever because of human error, mechanical glitches and voters who abstained from that race or deliberately sabotaged their ballots in protest, voting data shows.

As lawyers stoked court battles across the state over George W. Bush's apparent winning margin of just 300 votes, this far larger number emerged in a survey by the Orlando Sentinel of results from all 67 counties.

The survey includes certified totals from all but the three counties where tallies were still in dispute Tuesday. The numbers show:

l Nearly 3 percent of the 6.1 million Florida voters who cast valid ballots Nov. 7 either chose not to vote for president or did not have that presidential vote counted because of a mistake.

l Counties with punch-card systems like Miami-Dade and Palm Beach had the highest percentage of uncounted ballots.

l Counties carried by Democrat Al Gore accounted for 94,389 of these spoiled or incomplete ballots, while counties won by Republican Bush accounted for 85,466.

The difference between ballots cast and votes recorded would probably have gone unnoticed in a normal year it's close to Florida's 2.5 percent shortfall in 1996 and 2.3 percent shortfall in 1992. But it comes as another bitter spoonful of electoral reality in a state where the mantra for the past eight days has been "every vote counts."

"People should not have to guess if their vote counts," said Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho.

It's impossible to say how many of the uncounted or spoiled ballots this year were the result of mistakes and how many were by voter choice. Experts said two less-than-compelling candidates at the top of the ticket may have meant more presidential ballots left deliberately blank.

But some trends in the Orlando Sentinel survey suggest otherwise. For instance, the overall shortfall rate was nearly five times higher in the 43 counties where ballots are tabulated centrally rather than in local precincts.

In places like Orange County, where the vote-tallying machines are set up in precincts, flawed ballots are immediately kicked back to voters and they get a chance to fill out a new one. But when marked or punched ballots are shipped off to a central location for tallying, they can't be re-done.

Patterns also emerged depending on the type of voting machine used: The 26 counties with punch-card systems consistently had bigger "undervotes" meaning no choice was recorded in presidential races. That suggested that Palm Beach County was not the only place bedeviled by the infamous "chad" that clings to a ballot and keeps it from being read.

On the other hand, a high "overvote" meaning more than one candidate was marked for president was more common in the 16 counties where ballots are marked with felt-tip pens and counted centrally.

Another big problem noted particularly by smaller counties was the sheer number of presidential candidates on this year's ballot. Florida's voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1998 making it easier for independent and minority parties to get on the ballot, accounting for this year's 10 candidates.

"We had people coming into the office and they were saying, 'Where did these people come from?"' said Doris Shiver Gibbs, the elections supervisor in Franklin County, where 8 percent of the presidential vote went uncounted.

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