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Uncounted ballots remain mystery

By ANITA KUMAR

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 11, 2000


CLEARWATER -- After two days of counting and recounting ballots, Pinellas election officials still could not explain Friday night why 280 ballots would not be counted toward the presidential election.

They hope to learn the answer today after examining the 280 ballots -- about 50 less than the number that separates Al Gore and George W. Bush in the race for Florida's 25 electoral votes.

It's a job officials usually do the day after an election.

But elections official say they were too busy this week, twice recounting ballots and ultimately determining that they forgot to count 1,326 ballots on election night and double-counted 570 others.

On Friday afternoon, election officials told the Times that the 280 were overseas absentees ballots. But by Friday evening, they said they didn't know what kind of ballots they were.

"I can't tell you that. We're really not sure," said Donna Daloiso, data center manager at the county supervisor of elections office.

After repeated questions by the Times, elections officials began examining the ballots late Friday night, but results were incomplete.

Absentee ballots can be rejected for a variety reasons, including leaving off a signature, witness or address, having a signature by someone other than the voter or having a voter sign as his own witness.

Deborah Clark, Pinellas County supervisor of elections, said she and her staff spent all day Friday with Republicans, Democrats and the media and have not had time to determine what went wrong with the ballots.

"Your question is about one of 1,000 questions," Clark said. "Give us some time. Let us remedy this."

Daloiso said that the canvassing board -- made up of Clark, County Commissioner Sallie Parks and County Judge Patrick Caddell -- may have rejected them. But Parks and Caddell say they only rejected a handful of absentee ballots.

"I just don't know," Parks said. "It's puzzling to me. It sounds like a lot."

Caddell agreed.

"I don't recall that to be honest with you," he said. "That just doesn't sound right. There's confusion somewhere."

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