How does a computer, all on its own, give the wrong order of election results?
Palm Beach County's computer did.
All you have to do is ask Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher. She swears that's what happened in last Tuesday's Wellington election when results of a mayor's race and two council seats were scrambled like eggs on a griddle.
The races on the ballot in Wellington were mayor, council seat 1 and council seat 4.
Bucher said the computer system -- all by itself, like the computer in the creepy 1983 movie "War Games" -- listed the races in this order: seat 1, seat 4 and mayor. She said the correct order should have been mayor, seat 1 and seat 4.
That means voters who thought they were casting a ballot for the mayor, actually voted for a council seat 1 candidate; those who voted for a council seat 1 candidate didn't realize they were selecting for council seat 4; as for the mayor -- he got the council seat 4 votes.
Bucher told an incredulous crowd gathered Monday at the Riviera Beach tabulation office that the computer system "auto-generated" the order of the results. And, of course, whenever Bucher is involved, you know you're going to hear someone in her office call her muck-up "a never-seen-before phenomenon."
This time she called it herself. "Unprecedented," she said.
Whatever it was -- the work of an unlucky supervisor of elections office or a roundly incompetent one, you be the judge -- it's not going to be easy or cheap to put this humpty-dumpty back together again. Results of the election in Wellington, as in all 16 cities and towns that voted March 13, have already been certified. And with no case law dictating how to proceed when a declared-finished race is found to be wrong, legal minds far and wide are gathering as we speak.
Sadly, there are victims in all this -- the men and women who ran for office in good faith, and the community of Wellington itself. Who won what office? Were the winners declared incorrectly? Does anybody know? Bring on those lawyers, Susan, I have a feeling you're going to need every one of them.
Wellington Village Clerk Awilda Rodriguez told me Monday she hasn't the foggiest idea how the mess will get sorted. "I've certainly never seen anything like this," she said. "We're waiting for attorneys to take a look at election law to see how best to address the situation."
For now, anyway, Wellington's scrambled-egg winners are Bob Margolis in the mayor's race over Darell Bowen, by 3,341 votes to 2,411; in council seat 1, Shauna Hostetler over John Greene, 2,946 votes to 2,877; and in seat 4, Al Paglia over Matt Willhite, 2,956 votes to 2,745.
The story of gross incompetence in the Palm Beach supervisor of elections office during Bucher's reign isn't new. Remember, we reported that --
- of all 67 counties in the 2010 general election, Palm Beach was the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel dead last in processing its absentee ballots;
- and, in November 2010, a week after the election, 500 unopened absentee ballots were found in a box at the election tabulation center in Riviera Beach;
- and, after the Jan. 31, 2012, GOP Presidential Preference Primary, when somebody in her office credited Palm Beach County with a whopping 99.89 percent voter turnout on the state website.
Do the citizens of Palm Beach County simply believe they can't do any better than Susan Bucher? Do they think that after 2000, when Theresa LePore immortalized the place with the butterfly ballot, and after that, when Arthur Anderson left an entire election off the ballot, caused numerous elections delays, including 3,500 missing ballots in a 2008 judicial race, and raised questions over how the office spent federal money ... do they really think maybe Bucher is the best of a bad lot and that's good enough? Let's hope not.
This Wellington incident should spell the end of the road for Susan Bucher. It really should.
As I've said before, Palm Beach is the largest county in the state of Florida, and third in population. It is also -- along the coast, anyway -- the wealthiest, the most sophisticated and arguably the most cultured. It deserves a top-rate supervisor of elections.
It's time to clean the office up, starting at the top.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.