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CBS4 Investigates: Palm Beach County’s 2012 Ballot Debacle

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Voters in Palm Beach County (CBS4)

Voters in Palm Beach County (CBS4)

Michele-Gillen-600x450 Michele Gillen
Michele Gillen is chief investigative reporter at WFOR-TV, Mi...
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CAMPAIGN 2012
campaign 2012 new2 CBS4 Investigates: Palm Beach County’s 2012 Ballot Debacle

MIAMI (CBS4) – 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.

Bucher said that if the audit was done on all races there could be other elections where the wrong winner was chosen. However, what is most outrageous to Bucher is that this technical problem, she told Gillen, was known by the vendor. The company did not ever reveal this information to her.

“We took over this equipment in 2007. They never disclosed the error,” said Bucher “The company didn’t own up to it real quickly and neither did the state. And we had to prove that it was a software error and we did so.”

Bucher said its time to hold Florida accountable– the State of Florida tests and certifies the voting machines for the state. Florida is one of just a handful of states that opted out of the federal program that certifies voting machines… deciding to do it on its own.   Bucher said she is not confident in the system and would love to change the system she uses. She also said that the pickings are slim when it comes to finding a better choice.

“What we’re finding out, is that there are problems with almost every system in the United States,” said Bucher.   This issue is leaving some supervisors to shake their heads about the machines their constituents are voting on and how paper ballots in just random races will ever be checked.

“I’m a little bit concerned about the fact that we’re conducting random audits and we might not catch, in the future, any kind of software anomaly that could occur that would call the wrong winner,” Bucher said.

Candidates like Paglia are left to wonder if a change will ever come.   “I hope to God it doesn’t happen in a few weeks with the presidential election,” Paglia said.   Bucher said for that reason she refuses to be silent about her concerns.

“You know the first thing that they tell you is you’re going to scare the voters,” Bucher said. “Well you know what… we’re scared too.”

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