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Election 2004

2004's first election stirs ghosts of past

A special state House election hinges on a slim margin. Officials hash it out as a presidential election looms.

Published January 9, 2004

Florida's first election in 2004 is reviving memories of the 2000 presidential fiasco, complete with undervotes, a recount and bitter accusations.

An automatic recount Thursday did not change the outcome of a special election for House District 91 in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Ellyn Bogdanoff still holds a 12-vote lead over Oliver Parker. But Bogdanoff still has not been declared the winner, and Parker's camp claims some votes were not counted.

A total of 134 Broward voters who went to the polls Tuesday were not recorded as voting for any of seven Republicans on the ballot. The undervotes represent 1.3 percent of the more than 10,000 Broward residents who voted.

"I would find it odd that 2 percent of the people would go to the polls and not vote," said Chas Brady, a spokesman for Parker. "Two percent of the voters did not have their votes count."

The latest election foul-up has brought renewed calls for stronger voter education and a paper record of all votes, something U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and other Democrats have demanded.

Florida's touch screen machines are not required to provide paper receipts.

Because Bogdanoff leads by less than one-quarter of 1 percent, the state canvassing board, chaired by Gov. Jeb Bush, must order a manual recount of all absentee ballots - five, to be exact.

That won't change the outcome. Nor will it end the controversy.

"This smacks a lot of the 2000 race, some of the allegations being made and the implication of something sinister," said Bogdanoff supporter Ana Gomez-Mallada.

The Broward County elections office said the rate of undervotes is consistent with past elections, and is lower than the county's rate of undervotes in the 2000 presidential election.

"Very simply, some people choose not to vote," said Deputy Election Supervisor Gisela Salas. "That could be a legitimate choice of the voter. There's no way to tell."

Broward's votes were cast on iVotronic touch screens manufactured by Election Systems & Software (ES&S), the world's largest manufacturer of voting equipment.

The company said its machines were not to blame.

"We absolutely do not believe this is a case of voters intending to cast a ballot," said ES&S spokeswoman Becky Vollmer. "That is not uncommon."

ES&S's units include a review screen that asks voters to confirm their choices. If they do not, poll workers are instructed to help voters.

Some undervotes may have been caused by another oddity. Every candidate on the ballot was a Republican, but Democrats were allowed to vote under Florida's modified open primary law because the party did not field a candidate.

Speculation centered on the possibility that some Democrats went to the polls, saw only Republican candidates and walked out.

Florida ballots do not have a provision for "none of the above," though the idea was discussed by an Election Reform Task Force in 2001.

The units were used in the 2002 elections without technical problems, although a lack of poll workers led to widespread chaos that ultimately cost Miriam Oliphant her job as election supervisor.

Under Florida election laws, rewritten after the 2000 controversy, Parker can contest the election results with the state House of Representatives.

The eventual winner will complete the term of Connie Mack IV, who resigned to run for Congress. The heavily Republican state House district covers a strip of coastline from Dania Beach to Boca Raton.

For the moment, Democrats are watching from the sidelines, and enjoying it.

"It's interesting how Republicans are sounding like Democrats, screaming that the elections aren't pure," said state Rep. Ron Greenstein, a Broward Democrat.

The solution, everyone agrees, is to stop having close elections.

"We just pray for large margins," said Salas, the deputy election supervisor. "We definitely have to do some heavy praying for the fall elections. They're going to be a lot bigger, and a lot more difficult."

[Last modified January 9, 2004, 01:46:07]

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