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Lines pose biggest problem for voters

Lawyers and poll watchers find little to challenge as people wait to vote hours after polls close in some counties.

DAVID KARP
Published November 3, 2004

At sunrise Tuesday, thousands of lawyers and election watchers were poised to point out what went wrong with Florida's vote.

By dark, it appeared they had relatively little to criticize in the Tampa Bay area and along the Gulf Coast.

There were long lines from Citrus to Pinellas, but there were not widespread reports of voters being turned away at the polls. Concerns that poll watchers could challenge the qualifications of so many voters that they would cause gridlock also proved unfounded.

In fact, there did not appear to any reported challenges of voters in Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. Republican lawyers said they were challenging a limited number of voters in Hillsborough and perhaps Pinellas.

The biggest complaints among voters were about long lines.

At 9 p.m., two hours after polls were to close, there were still lines of people waiting to vote in Pinellas and Hillsborough. By then, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus had nearly all of their votes counted.

In counties that used touch screen machines, voters also were puzzled when some machines changed votes before their eyes. Voters said they touched the screen to vote for President Bush and John Kerry would appear as their choice.

Election officials blamed the problem on voters who mistakenly touched the wrong name.

Just in case, they adjusted the machines to make sure they were lined up properly. Voters who caught the problem could go back and change the vote.

"This does not sound like a software problem," said Ted Selker, co-director of the Cal Tech/MIT Voting Technology Project.

He said voters touched the wrong choice or the machines were not calibrated correctly. That meant that the button for selecting a candidate wasn't lined up properly with the candidate's name on the computer screen.

In Pasco County, Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning worried that campaign observers were telling voters turned away from the polls to demand a provisional ballot.

Provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct don't count.

In Hernando County, a paper ballot got jammed inside an optical scan ballot machine in Spring Hill, halting the scanning of votes for about an hour.

Voters stuck their ballots into a special emergency bin on the side of the machine.

"I'm supposed to believe they're going to count those votes?" said voter Sue Farber. "I'm sorry, I don't trust them."

Sheriff's deputies were called to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Spring Hill shortly after 7 p.m. after getting reports of irate residents who had arrived too late to vote. They left by the time deputies arrived.

Voting went smoothly in Citrus County. Some voters showed up at the wrong precinct, or found they had been removed from the rolls after not voting for six years.

In Inverness, Supervisor of Elections Susan Gill presided over the canvassing board, where County Judge Mark Yerman and County Commissioner Jim Fowler joined her in separating absentee ballots from their envelopes.

As Gill explained how they were preparing to count absentee ballots, Yerman quipped: "But only the ones we like."

"We've been doing this long enough," Gill told Yerman, "that you know there is no Election Day humor like that."

Times staff writers Jennifer Liberto, Steve Hegarty, Amy Wimmer Schwarb, Jamie Thompson and Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report.

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