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Overall in Pinellas, precincts see few glitches and setbacks

By LISA GREENE, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 11, 2002

Some poll workers had trouble turning on the voting machines, a few machines didn't work, and one precinct shut down for a short time.

Some poll workers had trouble turning on the voting machines, a few machines didn't work, and one precinct shut down for a short time.

But overall, the first countywide election in Pinellas using touch screen machines went fairly well Tuesday.

Officials said the few technical problems that did occur were quickly resolved and affected few, if any, votes.

Every polling place opened on time at 7 a.m., said elections supervisor Deborah Clark.

The most serious problem involved a Clearwater voter who said poll workers allowed her to vote twice -- first, mistakenly, on a nonpartisan ballot, and then again on a Democratic ballot. Similarly, a Tarpon Springs Republican said she was mistakenly given a nonpartisan ballot, but didn't realize it until she had already cast her vote. She never got to pick any Republican candidates.

Clark's office got a report that Precinct 623, near Safety Harbor, had closed its doors at 7 p.m., instead of keeping them open another two hours as ordered by Gov. Jeb Bush.

Poll workers turned away at least one voter, who later cast her ballot at the election's office. The precinct did reopen, and allowed voters to use paper ballots.

In some precincts, a few machines were shut down early because there were too many machines linked together, causing them to fall back on battery power.

Firefighters showed up about 8:30 p.m. to check out a smoky odor at Precinct 564 in the Bible Baptist Church in Palm Harbor. Poll workers set up shop outside, prepared to offer voters paper ballots.

By 11 p.m., with 265 of the county's 382 precincts reporting, elections officials had read the results from 2,332 voting machine cartridges, all but five of which worked properly. Results from those five machines were obtained from a paper printout.

Many Pinellas voters seemed to like their first venture with the new machines.

"It was so self-explanatory and the people (poll workers) were wonderful," said Jody Alsfelder, after voting in Ridgecrest, an area outside Largo that had a high rate of voter errors in 2000. "It's too bad they did not have this years ago."

In Clearwater, Dede Cola and her daughter Cristi voted together.

"They're easy. It's hard to screw this up," Cristi Cola said.

"This is a huge improvement," Dede Cola said. "I don't want to be the butt of voting jokes again."

Voters on Coquina Key in St. Petersburg seemed unfazed that there was no air-conditioning at the polling place. A poll worker brought in extra fans.

Officials reacted quickly to Bush's order to keep the polls open another two hours.

Elections officials contacted the 40 "election advisers" who roamed the county Tuesday, each responsible for troubleshooting at about 10 polling places. They, in turn, contacted their poll workers to tell them to stay late.

By 5 p.m., about 20 of the county's more than 3,000 workers had declined to stay. Others told elections officials they had to leave to get medication, then return. Elections officials also contacted some building owners to make sure other events weren't scheduled at the polling place.

-- Times staff writers Michael Sandler, Candace Rondeaux and Leon Tucker contributed to this report.

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