Inadequate Procedures, Checks Found in St. Lucie, Palm Beach Elections Offices
Around the State
Staff inexperience and inadequate procedures were behind many of the mistakes that plagued the election results in St. Lucie County, a state audit team reported.
Meanwhile, a separate report on the latest Palm Beach County slip-up concluded that the problem was mostly due to a failure to have enough checks and balances on the absentee ballots before they were mailed out. But otherwise, the contest was run "in a fair and impartial manner."
Blame also was cast on the vendors for each county's electronic voting system.
The Florida Department of State Division of Elections released a pair of audit reports on Friday from the fall election, one for each county.
The reports are not the final say on how the elections were handled in both counties or across Florida.
“These two reports are specific to issues that occurred in those two counties,” Department of State spokesman Chris Cate responded in an email.
“We intend to provide recommendations to the governor’s office by the end of this month on how the election system as a whole can be improved, based on conversations we have had with several supervisors of elections and others.”
The Palm Beach County review was conducted in October after absentee ballots in 413 of the county’s 842 total precincts omitted the requisite section heading above the contest questions involving judicial retention.
A separate team was sent to St. Lucie County in the days after the November general election after four technical malfunctions occurred with memory cards during the early voting period, a number of ballot scanning errors cropped up during retabulation and an early voting recount, some logs for ballot accounting were reported missing, and the office’s results were deemed incomplete.
U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Palm Beach Gardens, questioned the numbers out of St. Lucie County, while other elected officials, including Florida Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Florida Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, verbally blasted the office.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, at the direction of Gov. Rick Scott, would take a larger team to both counties, as well as Lee, Miami-Dade and Broward counties in December to further review problems that were highlighted during the election, most notably long lines at early voting and on Election Day.
His report on those interviews, which he said for St. Lucie should include some personnel changes, is expected later this month or in early February.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has requested that the supervisors from the five most troubled counties in the 2012 general election -- Lee, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Broward and St. Lucie -- appear before his Senate Ethics and Elections Committee.
St. Lucie County
When the St. Lucie County supervisor of elections office began uploading its votes on the night of Nov. 6, 2012, Election Day, the supervisor’s office recognized a number of memory card issues had occurred during the early voting period from Oct. 27, 2012, through Nov. 3, 2012.
Although the supervisor’s office had prepared for a first time multicard ballot election, the office did not anticipate the complexity of technical malfunctions nor have a well-defined contingency plan in the event of such issues occurring.
Despite well-intentioned efforts, staff inexperience and inadequate procedures compounded issues, resulting in additional technical and procedural errors. Due to an increased concern about the accuracy of the early voting tabulations, Secretary Detzner assigned observers. These observers determined that there were at least four separate incidences of memory card failures, a number of ballot scanning errors during retabulation and an early voting recount, missing logs for ballot accounting, and incomplete official results.
• Establish review procedures and methods for multicard ballots by coordinating with a large county that has experience with multicard ballot elections.
• Establish a method of checks and balances of multicard ballots to ensure an accurate ballot count with accurate turnout by group (early voting, Election Day, absentee, etc.). This method includes reconciliation of each group’s counted, spoiled, unread, and duplicated ballots.
• Establish and implement a contingency plan in the event of technical procedural errors, failures, or oversight. The office should develop macroscopic remedial steps.
• Ensure tight controls are exercised in managing multicard ballots, including a means to confirm all uploads are complete before combining the ballots into storage boxes.
• Enhance or develop procedures to identify the duties, responsibilities, and authorizations for ballot movement, storage, traceability, and chain of custody.
• Upload the early voting results data into the election management system (i.e., GEMS for St. Lucie County) software before Election Day. The early voting results may be transmitted to GEMS for compilation of the returns after completion of the early voting period, but obviously must not be released prior to the closing of the polls on Election Day. This will help to minimize undue pressure arising from other reporting requirements on Election Night. It will also provide additional lead time to address anomalies that may show up.
• The final recommendation is directed to Dominion Voting Systems Inc. This vendor needs to address the continuing failures with the AccuVote OS memory card. In particular, Dominion needs to have a plan in place that will give the Division of Elections and its customers (supervisors of elections) confidence in the memory cards and to provide that plan to Division of Elections as soon as possible. The plan should address the root cause, corrective action and a backup plan if the correction continues to have failures.
Palm Beach County
From firsthand observation, the observers believe that the Palm Beach County absentee duplication process for the 2012 general election was conducted in a fair and impartial manner that is generally consistent with Florida Election Code.
The Palm Beach County supervisor of elections office, under Supervisor Susan Bucher, needs to augment its current ballot proofing procedure to include at least a random additional review of printed ballots before ballots are either mailed to absentee voters or deployed to a precinct on Election Day.
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.