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More accurate voter counts promised

Elections chief Clark says fatigue led to errors at some precincts Sept. 5.

Published October 27, 2006


Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark says she has enhanced training to ensure that poll workers accurately count the voters who sign in at each precinct on Election Day.

Her comments follow concerns about discrepancies that surfaced this week between the number of voter signatures recorded at some precincts during the Sept. 5 primary and the number of ballots counted.

She blamed poll workers' fatigue and error and said the correct numbers were certified to the state.

"It's a new process," Clark said about the forms poll workers fill out at the end of Election Day. "They'll get better."

A local voter watchdog group's report this week highlighted differences at several polls between the number of people who signed in - according to county records - and the number of votes tabulated on the electronic voting machines. At one precinct, the difference was 125 votes.

"These are sloppy procedures and practices in place," said Pamela Haengel, head of the Voting Integrity Alliance of Tampa Bay. The group, along with the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, has received financial support from the Ford Foundation to observe polls in Pinellas and Miami-Dade counties.

The group analyzed precinct reconciliation forms, which poll workers are required by law to fill out after the polls close.

Poll workers manually count the signatures in the voter register book and note it on the form. Based on those records, the voting alliance found several precincts where the number of voters counted differed significantly from the number of ballots the machines counted.

The discrepancies fueled concerns among the watchdog group's members that electronic voting machines are unreliable and vulnerable to manipulation. More voters than votes could mean a machine malfunction deleted votes, while more votes than voters could mean ballot stuffing, Haengel said.

Clark said the primary election results the county certified to the state last month were never in question. The elections office doesn't use the precinct-based reports when it reconciles voters with ballots. Instead, the county scans the bar code next to the name of each voter who signed the register to count the number of people who signed in. That count, plus the tally of ballots recorded by the machines, forms the final voting report that is used to certify the results sent to the state, Clark said.

Clark said her office confirmed just 23 discrepancies, representing more ballots counted by the machines than the number of signatures in precinct registers.

Clark said that is a very low number. "If it had been hundreds like was reported before, I'd be very concerned," Clark said.

[Last modified October 27, 2006, 00:30:02]

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