POLITICO’s Andrew Restuccia warns us that Palm Beach County–the Florida county that brought us the “hanging chad” nightmare in 2000–is in the middle of yet another election season mess…one that may not be resolved in the two weeks remaining before Election Day.
As many of us remember (and have nightmares about), George W. Bush was declared the winner in 2000 thanks to a slim 537 vote margin. We had to endure seemingly endless recounts, drama about dangling and hanging chads, voter confusion, “butterfly ballots” and reports of voter disenfranchisement at the polls.
The “butterfly ballots” had a strange configuration, comprised of two facing pages of candidates for president with each “pointing to a single column of punch-card holes”. POLITICO reminds us that Palm Beach County voters apparently “improperly punched as many as 29,000 ballots, while many Al Gore supporters said they had accidentally voted for third party candidate Pat Buchanan.”
In the end, SCOTUS denied Florida’s Supreme Court a bite at the apple, swooped in, and declared Bush the winner. To underscore how unprecedented and unusual the situation was, the Bush v. Gore SCOTUS decision can not be used as precedent for similar election outcome disputes: normally, a SCOTUS decision serves to provide a legal guideline to cite and study for all lower courts in the United States.
So what the hell is going on in Palm Beach County this time? Well, some derp misprinted 27,000 absentee ballots. They have already been filled-out by voters, but can’t be read by the tabulation machines because they are misaligned. This means that county officials are having to laboriously copy over all the misprinted ballots onto correctly-aligned ballots under the watchful eyes of both Romney and Obama representatives. No doubt everyone is already nervous lest Palm Beach County set more How To Screw Up An Election history.
Restuccia explains the stakes:
“Every time you duplicate a ballot, you run the risk of making a mistake, particularly with 27,000 ballots,” former Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning — whose job included overseeing the state’s elections bureaucracy — told The Palm Beach Post.
Miami attorney Raquel Rodriguez, statewide co-chair of Lawyers for Romney, objected last week to the process that county Election Supervisor Susan Bucher had designed for the hand-copying, saying it didn’t follow state law, The Post reported. “She’s inventing a procedure,” Rodriguez said. Bucher, a former Democratic state House member, didn’t respond Wednesday to requests for comment from POLITICO.
While the county is heavily Democratic, neither campaign is willing to take any chances on winning Florida’s 29 electoral votes. Obama will need a sizable vote advantage in South Florida to overcome GOP dominance elsewhere in the state, so any voting glitches in Palm Beach County could cost him dearly.
“Our number one interest is making sure that every voter can cast a ballot and have confidence that their vote will count,” Obama for America-Florida spokesman Eric Jotkoff said in a statement Wednesday. A Romney campaign official in Florida confirmed that his campaign also sent representatives to monitor the process, but declined to comment further.
The printing error specifically misplaced ballot responses associated with some state judge retention-related votes, but correcting the original printing error caused the subsequent voting “bubbles” to shift as well. Teams with members of both political parties are already laboriously transferring votes to new, correctly-laid-out ballots. Along with the observers from both candidates’ teams, there are also Florida Division of Elections employees monitoring the transfers and a quality control overseer. The process is being audio- and video-taped. Despite all this, there are already hints that the results–whatever they are–will be challenged.
The county has had other electoral process glitches which persisted as elections ousted two election supervisors in a row and changed voting methodology from the infamous punch cards to touchscreens to the optically-scanned ballots Palm Beach relies on currently.
Palm Beach County GOP Chairman Sid Dinnerstein takes a predictably partisan view and scoffs at the idea that there has been any monkey business or that Palm Beach might wind up skewing another presidential election: “Every time the Democrats have a bad cycle, we throw out the machines. We’re talking about 25,000 ballots in a state that is going to cast 8 million.”