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Escambia voters had a great turnout - but not that great

A tabulation error had nearly 85 percent of the county's registered voters voting. It was more like 75 percent.

BRADY DENNIS
Published November 16, 2004

Like the hurricane that plowed through in September, the news that Escambia County had posted the highest voter turnout in the state on Nov. 2 lasted barely a day.

In the wake of the election, records showed that 84.9 percent of the storm-ravaged county's 189,833 voters cast ballots, well above the average state turnout of 72 percent.

Not true.

A problem with the way tabulation machines feed information into the computer system caused an inaccurate number, said Bonnie Jones, Escambia's supervisor of elections.

While the machines accurately counted the number of absentee votes, they began feeding an incorrect result into the office's computers, she said.

"It skewed the total vote," Jones said.

Elections officials noticed the problem almost immediately when the system showed that no one had voted yes on Amendments 7 and 8. That, she said, was a glaring error.

After they figured out the problem, workers manually added the absentee totals into the reporting system, Jones said, and she called the state Division of Elections to report what had happened.

The final result: 75.6 percent, or 143,559, of the county's voters actually turned out for the election, still above the state average. That seemed more normal.

"I had said 75 to 80 percent (would turn out)," Jones said.

As of Monday, the honor that Escambia County once held fell to Flagler County, according to state records. There, 81.9 percent of the 47,068 registered voters cast ballots.

Sarasota County came in a close second at 81.6 percent turnout among its 240,592 registered voters.

"Believe me, I'd love to have had the highest (turnout) in the state," Jones said Monday from her Pensacola office.

"Still, we were pretty good."

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