Palm Beach County voters have been assigned to polling stations in about 80 Christian churches and five synagogues or Jewish centers this year, along with schools, government buildings and other locations. Until last week, a single mosque was part of this mix. County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher had invited the Islamic Center of Boca Raton to host a polling site for the Aug. 30 Florida primary and Nov. 8 general elections. Then she disinvited the mosque after an anti-Islamic backlash. She told the center’s president that she received about 50 complaints, including threats of violence, from people who don’t want to vote in a mosque, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Florida. But moving the polling station to a nearby library hasn’t saved Bucher from criticism. U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel, both Palm Beach Democrats, issued statements Tuesday night opposing religious discrimination. “If we are going to use places of worship as polling places, we should not discriminate,” Deutch said.
For years, the Islamic Center of Boca Raton, Fla., served as a polling station for Palm Beach County voters. Since at least the year 2010, citizens have cast their votes within the pastel green walls of the mosque, whether it was for a presidential primary, a municipal election or a special primary. Last week, however, the mosque was removed as a polling site. The decision was made by Susan Bucher, Supervisor of Elections for Palm Beach County, after she received complaints, and threats, about the use of the mosque in the upcoming Florida primary in August and general election in November. Bucher, a Democrat, is running for re-election for the nonpartisan supervisor post. “We began receiving complaints from voters,” said Bucher in an email to The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board. “Some felt uncomfortable voting at the Islamic Center.” She had received a call “that indicated individuals planned to impede voting and maybe even call in a bomb threat to have the location evacuated on Election Day,” Bucher said, and she decided to relocate the polling place to the Spanish River Library about two miles away.
Florida’s much-maligned elections are likely to run much better in 2014, but critics see problems for 2016 that could bring a repeat of the frustrating failures that marked the last two presidential elections. “We might not see the same type of problems in 2014 [that] we saw in 2012,” said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political science professor who’s done extensive research on the way elections are run around the country. “With respect to 2016, I think we’re going to repeat the past.” In South Florida, the people in charge of running elections are far more optimistic. Not only will voting run smoothly in this year’s August primary and November general election, said Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes and Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, but people should have a much easier time voting in the next presidential election.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s mea culpa tour to tout the state’s revamped noncitizen voter purge led to a tense exchange Wednesday with an election supervisor miffed about the state’s botched efforts last year. Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher peppered Detzner and his staff with questions about the process and the accuracy of the data to be used in the purge. “Where does that data come from, how often is it updated: every 10 years or every 10 minutes? … I have a lot of concern that the people we got the database from are saying this is not comprehensive and definitive,” Bucher said during a meeting at Broward County’s Voting Equipment Center in Lauderhill. Bucher’s questions revolved around the federal SAVE database that the state will use this time to search for non-citizen voters. Detzner explained that state agencies currently use SAVE data to verify that Floridians are eligible for millions of dollars in entitlements. “This is the best database we have to deal with,” he said. “This is important to get it right…It can be done and it will be done correctly.” But Bucher wasn’t satisfied, nor were voting activists who egged her on at times in the audience. A Democrat elected to a nonpartisan office, Bucher continued to ask multiple questions.
Florida: Democracy with headaches: Rush of last-minute absentee ballots challenges election officials | Palm Beach Post
At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, an hour before the polls closed, two supporters of Riviera Beach mayoral candidate Bishop Thomas Masters delivered 300 absentee ballots to the Supervisor of Elections Office. The ballots, collected from city residents, gave Masters enough of a lead to avoid a runoff but they also raised the ire of Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher, who presides over the time-consuming process of manually opening each envelope, comparing the signature on the absentee ballot to the voter’s registration and then tallying the vote. Most absentee ballots arrive by mail or are delivered to the supervisor’s office at least a day before the 7 p.m. deadline on election night — when the polls close. That gives Bucher and her staff time to tally the absentee ballots before machines begin counting ballots cast that day at the polls. But when absentee ballots come in at virtually the last minute, as they did Tuesday, ballot counting stalls and it takes longer to get results in all races.
Florida: County Supervisor of Elections: Private voting equipment companies should be held more responsible for election machine mishaps | TCPalm.com
St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker told state lawmakers Monday that private voting equipment companies should be held more responsible for their role in election mishaps. Speaking to the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections, Walker said many of the vote-counting issues experienced during St. Lucie’s election wouldn’t have occurred if the right memory cards were made available. “I believe, as (Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections) Susan Bucher stated earlier, that voting equipment companies should be held accountable for the work that they do in this state, if they are certified vendors,” Walker said. Bucher’s Palm Beach County office had its share of vendor troubles. Workers had to recopy more than 30,000 ballots after a vendor misprinted the ballot.
Scrutiny and potential change could soon be coming to the elections process in the state of Florida. The Secretary of State will tour several counties in the coming days where voting problems were present. This, as top elections officials met in Orange County Wednesday to figure out what may have gone wrong and how to improve the election process going forward. Long early voting lines and long election ballots for voters are to of the top challenges that elections supervisors from across the state were discussing in Orlando. “We’ve brought suggestions to the legislature that have been ignored,” said Susan Bucher, Supervisor of Elections in Palm Beach County.
Florida: Still counting votes, Florida winds up not counting in 2012 presidential election | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
In the end, Florida didn’t actually matter at all. And that’s a good thing. Because even though President Obama got more than enough electoral votes to win reelection Tuesday, Florida is still officially up for grabs. No, there are no hanging chads or butterfly ballots this time. Not even any major glitches. And unlike 2000, there won’t be a recount where the future of the country hangs in the balance. But with record turnout – more than 70 percent – local elections supervisors are still trying to tally absentee and provisional ballots that could push the Florida outcome one way or the other. As of Wednesday afternoon, nine counties, including Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade, were still tallying those votes.
Every so often here, in the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections office warehouse, someone mutters “Bush v. Gore” or, worse, “butterfly ballot.” For elections workers, November 2000 is an embarrassing legacy. For campaign lawyers, it’s a badge of honor, more Purple Heart than Silver Star. Recently, lawyers and volunteer ballot readers have flocked again to this hapless county, calling to mind 12 years of election blunders. If not for 2000, many say, this month’s printing error that spoiled about 35,000 absentee ballots might have gone unnoticed, and the Supervisor of Elections office might have escaped new scrutiny ahead of the Nov. 6 presidential election.
It’s a ballot recount in a tight presidential race that invites easy comparisons to the electoral crisis of 2000. About 27,000 absentee ballots can’t be digitally scanned because of a recently discovered design flaw. Elections workers began Monday duplicating the markings from bad ballots to new ones so that the votes could be recorded, an effort that has led some to question the accuracy of results. And it’s all happening in Palm Beach County. “By now, questions can be asked about why these type of problems keep happening in this one county,” said Ed Foley, an Ohio State University law professor and expert on election law.
Florida: Florida elections officials to oversee duplication of flawed Palm Beach County absentee ballots | Palm Beach Post
Underscoring the deep concern surrounding Palm Beach County’s latest election snafu, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner is sending two observers here on Monday as workers begin an unprecedented process of duplicating an estimated 27,000 absentee ballots. In a letter to Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher late Friday, Detzner said he is sending two deputies to “observe and examine the registration and election processes and the condition, custody and operation of voting systems and equipment.” The deputies, he wrote, are empowered to “supervise the preparation of the voting equipment and procedures for the election.” Both will report their findings to him and file a written report with Palm Beach County Clerk of Courts Sharon Bock. State law allows the secretary of state to take such action “as he sees fit.” But the law also allows candidates, party leaders and others to request that observers be sent in. A spokesman for Detzner said, “This was the secretary’s decision.”
Lawyers for rival presidential candidates Mitt Romney and President Obama descended on the Palm Beach County Elections Office today, trying to find out what procedures would be in place next week to assure an estimated 27,000 absentee ballots that contain printing errors would be copied accurately. Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said candidates or their representatives would be allowed to observe what is expected to be dozens of two-person teams duplicating the ballots. But, she said, the exact procedure won’t be announced until Friday. Ballots will begin being opened and copied on Monday at 10 a.m. “It will be first-come, first-served one person per candidate,” Bucher said. Representatives could come from the campaigns of anyone seeking office in the Nov. 6 election, from Obama and Romney to Palm Beach County Port Commissioner Jean Enright. How many will be allowed to watch each team will be a function of how much room is available.
About 10,000 absentee ballots have been in limbo since Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher discovered that there was a mistake on about 60,000 ballots that were mailed out Oct. 2. But, she said Friday, that’s a good thing. The 10,000 ballots were in the batch that had printing errors. Tabulating machines won’t be able to read about half of the flawed ballots. So when voters return them, they will have to be hand-copied onto new ballots which will be fed through machines. “We stopped 10,000 from going out,” she said. Workers were stuffing new ballots into envelopes Friday, in hopes of getting them in the mail.
With some Palm Beach County voters voicing concerns about Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher’s plan to hand-copy votes from thousands of defective absentee ballots onto new ones, it appears there’s no other solution to the problem that was created by a printing error, a lawyer who is monitoring the situation said Thursday. “Our main issue is how to deal with the defective ballots,” said Tallahassee attorney Barry Richard, who represents three Florida Supreme Court justices who face merit retention in the November election. “There’s going to be a lot of people opening ballots and recording votes on new ballots. This obviously is fraught with the possibility for human error.”
Al Paglia yearned to hear that he had won the Wellington, Florida city council election. “It was ecstasy I had 50 people at my house at 11:00 at night it finally came across the TV screen.” Paglia recalled. “On the election website Al Paglia upsets incumbent – it was wonderful.” The supposed win took place earlier this year in March. Even in the world of politics – his honeymoon was shorter than anyone could have imagined. Just days after being declared the victor in a city councilman race, he got a call saying he was indeed… a loser. It was Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections, Susan Bucher, and her team who discovered the mistake. In two races, winners including Paglia were announced and certified… when they were actually the losers. Bucher said Palm Beach’s optical scan election system had – unbeknownst to anyone-mixed up the race results. As a result, the wrong winners and losers were called. When asked by CBS4 Investigative reporter, Michele Gillen, what is was like to declare the wrong winners? Bucher said, “It humiliating. It was awful. It was never our intent.” Bucher is one of several election supervisors we’ve met, who are taking aim at Florida’s audit process — the review of the paper ballots– only a sampling is done, and only after elections are certified.
Florida: “Questionable” Palm Beach County voter registration forms forwarded to state attorney for review | Palm Beach Post
The Republican Party of Florida is dumping a firm it paid more than $1.3 million to register new voters, after Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher flagged 106 “questionable” registration applications turned in by the contractor this month. Bucher asked the state attorney’s office to review the applications “in an abundance of caution” because she said her staff had questions about similar-looking signatures, missing information and wrong addresses on the forms. The state GOP hired Strategic Allied Consultants of Glen Allen, Va., for “voter registration services” and get-out-the-vote activities. The firm got identical payments of $667,598 in July and August. “When we learned today about the instances of potential voter registration fraud that occurred in Palm Beach County, we immediately informed the Republican National Committee that we were terminating the contract with the voter registration vendor we hired at their request because there is no place for voter registration fraud in Florida,” said RPOF Executive Director Mike Grissom late Tuesday. An employee of the company said no one was available to comment Tuesday evening.
Local election administrators form the front line in protecting voters from disenfranchisement. It was certainly welcome news that the Department of Justice sent a letter last week to Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner to remind him of federal law prohibiting the Sunshine State from purging the voter rolls so close to an election. Voters and the courts also make a tremendous difference in the fight against state policies that could make it harder formillions of eligible Americans to vote. After seeing a wave of restrictive voting laws sweep the nation in the last year or so — the worst since the Jim Crow era — push back against these new but regressive policies is occurring across the country, from Maine to Texas andWisconsin to South Carolina. The quiet heroes in the Florida purge story, however, may be those fastidious local supervisors of elections who have committed themselves to protecting voters, following federal law, and publicly stating their opposition to sloppy purge practices. In mid-May, Detzner issued a press release announcing that he had a list of 182,000 people who were on the voter rolls, but ineligible to vote because they were non-citizens. Reports of similar lists for allegedly deceased voters and voters with criminal convictions soon surfaced. There is no dispute that our voter registration lists should be clean and accurate. However, the methodological problems with these types of purges and the proximity to the August primary generated abundant criticism. The almost immediate influx of stories of eligible Americans being incorrectly identified as non-citizens lent fuel to the fire, and many local supervisors of elections publicly criticized the planned purge.
Florida elections supervisors said Friday they will discontinue a state-directed effort to remove names from county voter rolls because they believe the state data is flawed and because the U.S. Department of Justice has said the process violates federal voting laws. Late Thursday, the Department of Justice sent Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner a letter telling him that an effort launched by Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration last year to remove the names of people believed to be non-citizens from voter rolls appears to violate at least two federal voting laws. The federal agency gave Detzner until Wednesday to respond. The Justice Department letter and mistakes that the 67 county elections supervisors have found in the state list make the scrub undoable, said Martin County Elections Supervisor Vicki Davis, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections. “There are just too many variables with this entire process at this time for supervisors to continue,” Davis said.
Palm Beach County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to upgrade vote-counting software, just over a month after a vote-counting mix-up in the Wellington city council election. The software improvements cost $117,450 in a deal with Dominion Voting Systems, Inc. Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher had the deal in the works before the Election Night problems in Wellington. Bucher in March initially blamed software problems for her office naming the incorrect winners in two Wellington races. The software upgrades and other procedural changes are supposed to iron out any problems like those that occurred in Wellington and speed up Palm Beach County’s traditionally slow vote counting.
In ancient times, before 2000, Florida elections supervisors had profiles lower than mob guys in witness protection. Then came the butterfly ballot and Bush vs. Gore and the realization that not just anyone can run an election – or at least run an election well. Palm Beach County is on its third elections supervisor since then and next year may have a fourth. Meanwhile, the Legislature has made two major revisions in how the state conducts elections and another big change designed to make voter registration harder. Point being, the workings of elections never have been under more scrutiny. Sadly, 12 years after the biggest election fiasco in U.S. history, Palm Beach County remains unable to produce a string of trouble-free elections, no matter who is in charge. Theresa LePore’s 2000 ballot brought her a challenge from fellow Democrats in 2004. She lost to Arthur Anderson, a former school board chairman who had no experience with elections or technology. Mr. Anderson presided over a reign of error.
Florida: Dominion says Elections Office should have known how to use the election software, avoiding errors in Wellington election | Sun-Sentinel.com
Palm Beach County elections officials could have averted a software glitch that erroneously awarded two Wellington Village Council seats to losing candidates if they had followed the instruction manual, the manufacturer has told state election officials. Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher vehemently denied the claim. “I read the reference guide three times yesterday,” she said. “Nowhere does it tell you to check for this, ever.” Even as the question of who is to blame grew murkier, a clearer picture of the error itself emerged Monday, with the company, Dominion Voting Systems, sending out a national advisory warning election officials how to avoid a similar mistake. In the advisory, Dominion also suggests that the mistake could have been caught before the election had one key test been performed differently. The so-called “synchronization” error was caused when Bucher’s central vote-counting software was lined up to accept races in a different order than they appeared on the Wellington ballot. As a result, election-night totals on Wellington’s three races were shifted in a circle – with village council Seat 4 votes going to the mayor’s race, votes for mayor going to council Seat 1, and votes for Seat 1 going to Seat 4. On Monday, Bucher said the error occurred when her staff entered the titles on the ballot of each position, such as “Seat 1.”
Florida: Dominon Voting Systems now rebuts Bucher’s account of Wellington ballot snafu | Palm Beach Post
The maker of Palm Beach County’s voting machines has told state officials its software did not cause the glitch that led to incorrect results being certified in two Wellington races, according to a letter from the company – a statement that starkly contrasts with Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher’s explanation for what happened. A “shortcoming” in the county’s vote-counting software allowed the error to go undetected, and the software did nothing to stop it, Dominion Voting Systems acknowledged. But the manufacturer disavowed responsibility for the error itself, saying, “it is clear that the mismatch was not the result of a ‘bug.’ ” Bucher has said the opposite. After the error was revealed March 19, she said the company had taken the blame and released a sharply worded press release that started with: “Technology fails.”
In the end, there was no confusion. No name calling, no questionable motives. Instead there was order. Perfect order, and hugs. A hand count predicted to last six hours Saturday lasted exactly six hours, the same hand count that the county’s top election official guaranteed would match a second tally of votes for Wellington’s messy March 13 council election. The winners: Bob Margolis for mayor, John Greene for seat 1 and Matt Willhite for seat 4. It was a relief for everyone involved, including voters. “Now there’s no dispute,” said Wellington resident Frank Ventriglio. Ventriglio and his wife came to witness the hand count at Palm Beach County’s elections service center in Riviera Beach, on his 57th birthday, no less. “We wanted to see the democratic process at its best,” Theresa Ventriglio said.
Florida: Wellington canvassing board certifies revised election results subject to hand count | Palm Beach Post
The village council has no newly sworn members and looks exactly like it has for the past few years – despite a March 13 election for three of its five seats. The same council members will rule until and unless a hand recount makes clear who prevailed for mayor, seat 1 and seat 4. Wellington’s canvassing board voted unanimously tonight to certify election results from a March 19 revised tally of votes – subject to their confirmation by a hand count. That means the results still aren’t official and that until and unless there is a hand count – which could take only one day, but must be ordered by a judge – the pre-election council is seated. “What a mess,” Wellington Chamber of Commerce Vice President Victor Connor said as he left the meeting.
A judge has the power to decide whether any candidates are sworn in to the village council tonight, as expected — and if those candidates can be only the original winners of Wellington’s disputed election. Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Robin Rosenberg is expected by this morning to decide whether to hold a hearing today to determine if Wellington’s canvassing board can certify only the village’s March 13 election results. According to a complaint filed Friday by former Wellington Mayor Kathy Foster and Wellington resident Gaye Scarpa, it would be “unlawful” for that board to accept any other results. That’s why they want the judge to stop the board from possibly swearing in candidates whom a March 19 revised tally of votes revealed to be the winners. Three other lawsuits, including one filed Monday, support the March 19 results.
Two Wellington residents – one of them the village’s first mayor – have filed a lawsuit to try to stop Tuesday’s swearing-in of candidates whom a March 19 recount determined were elected to the village council. A hearing will take place at 8:45 a.m. Monday in Palm Beach Circuit Court in front of Judge Robin Rosenberg. The lawsuit, filed by former mayor Kathy Foster and Gaye A. Scarpa, also seeks to stop the village canvassing board from certifying any election results other than those certified by county Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher on March 16.
Florida: Dominion Voting Systems: software ‘shortcoming’ led to Wellington election fiasco | Post on Politics
The supplier of Palm Beach County’s voting and tabulating equipment says a software “shortcoming” led to votes being assigned to the wrong candidates and the elections office declaring the wrong winners in two recent Wellington council races. Ballots from the March 13 Wellington election were counted properly. But the results were matched to the wrong races. Council candidates Shauna Hostetler and Al Paglia were declared winners on election night, but an audit six days later showed John Greene and Matt Willhite had in fact gotten more votes.
Florida: Dominion Voting Systems releases statement taking the blame for Palm Beach County vote problem | South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
The supplier of Palm Beach County’s voting and tabulating equipment says a software “shortcoming” led to votes being assigned to the wrong candidates and the elections office declaring the wrong winners in two recent Wellington council races. County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, who insisted a computer glitch rather than human error was to blame for the fiasco, claimed vindication after Dominion Voting Systems released its statement. Wellington and 15 other municipalities held elections on March 13. In Wellington, the ballot was set up with the mayor’s race first, the Seat 1 council race second and the Seat 4 council race third. Unbeknownst to elections officials, the vote totals for the mayor’s race ended up being reported and later certified as the results of the Seat 1 race. The Seat 1 vote totals were certified as the Seat 4 results and the Seat 4 vote totals were certified as the mayoral results. The problem wasn’t discovered until six days after the election, during a routine audit. The audit found no similar problems in the 15 other cities that held elections. The fact that the audit is conducted after winners are certified is a requirement of state law. Bucher said her office “will be working with the state to ask for the necessary law changes.”
Palm Beach County’s elections office appears to have figured out the correct results for three Wellington elections after declaring two wrong winners last week and certifying the results to the state. But in the home of the 2000 “butterfly ballot,” does the fact that erroneous results went undetected for nearly six days in an election with fewer than 6,000 voters carry implications for the November presidential election? Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher characterized the problem as an isolated and unprecedented software glitch that was detected and corrected using routine audit procedures. She said no one in her office is to blame — and she took exception to questions about whether voters might question her office’s ability to deliver accurate results in the future. “This is not a human error. This is a computer-generated error, one that is on a computer system that is tested and certified by the state of Florida,” Bucher told reporters.