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State audits Pinellas elections

A two-hour delay in tallying results on March 7 prompts the review.

By WILL VAN SANT
Published April 11, 2006


CLEARWATER - In the first such audit ever conducted in Florida, state elections officials Tuesday began examining the results of three Pinellas County municipal election held early last month.

The state previously has examined individual precincts or machines, but never a full election.

With no guidelines, the head of the Bureau of Voting Systems Certification devised his own.

"There are no auditing standards for Florida elections," said David Drury. "We are on a learning curve here."

Drury, a former jet engine engineer with degrees in business and history, said he came up with the protocol in about a half-hour. He welcomes suggestions for improvement, he said.

Area voting rights activists, however, were more concerned about the audit's limited scope. Drury is examining how votes were counted, not whether the machines accurately registered voters' choices.

"It's absurd to have an audit and not try to determine whether votes were recorded correctly to begin with" said Pamela Haengel, director of the Voting Integrity Alliance of Tampa Bay, which backs the use of paper ballots. "I think that we deserve better."

Pinellas Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark requested the state review the March 7 elections in Pinellas Park, Palm Harbor and Largo because of a two-hour delay in tallying results. She wants to reassure the public that the problem was caused by human error, not faulty technology.

None of the candidates contested the results and the audit is not expected to alter them.

Clark says the March 7 problem was caused when a technician underestimated the amount of space needed on a computer hard drive to tabulate the results. She has complete confidence, she said, in the machines her office uses.

Some questioned whether technicians who fixed the problem used computer coding that was not approved by the state. Clark's audit request asked officials to examine that question and whether results had been tallied correctly.

She did not ask that the machines be checked to make sure they accurately recorded voters' selections. So Drury is focusing on whether the numbers the machines produced were corrupted during tabulation.

Paper tapes the machines produce of recorded votes will be compared with electronic results to find possible discrepancies. A manual count of precinct voter rolls will be compared to the number of votes the machines registered. Another step involves comparing the software used in the tabulating computers to software the state has certified.

Drury and the rest of the state team will continue their work today and hope to give preliminary results to Clark soon. A finished report is expected May 12.

Will Van Sant can be reached at 445-4166 or vansant@sptimes.com.

[Last modified April 11, 2006, 23:08:27]


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