In the latest South Florida election mishap, workers in 35 percent of Miami-Dade
County’s 749 polling places last November filed counts of voter signatures
that differed from the number of ballots cast on the touch-screen voting machines,
a new analysis has found.
On Nov. 2, election workers in 260 polling places submitted data to the Miami-Dade
Supervisor of Elections office that did not match up with the total number of
touch-screen ballots reported by the canvassing board, according to a study
conducted by the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, a nonpartisan watchdog
Out of those 260 polling places, 23 submitted totals that were off by more
than 50 voters, while 68 submitted totals that were off by more than 10 voters.
In one polling place, the difference was 1,284. That polling place was one of
five that showed very large discrepancies. The coalition is studying those five
for possible clerical errors.
Not including those five polling places, the percentage difference between
the reported signature totals and the machine ballot counts varied from less
than 1 percent to 34 percent. The differences included polling places where
there were more reported signatures than ballots cast, and others where ballots
cast exceeded reported signatures.
A Daily Business Review inspection of voter logs showed that in some polling
places where there were discrepancies, the totals reported by election workers
equaled the total number of voters in the precinct, including absentee and early
voters. But the county reporting form for signature totals, Certificate No.
2, asks workers to fill in the total of polling place signatures only, not the
total of absentee voters.
The reform coalition said the discrepancies cast doubt on the county’s
ability to check the accuracy of the controversial iVotronic touch-screen machines.
Since there are no paper records votes cast, critics argue that it’s essential
for election officials to carefully reconcile the total of voter sign-in signatures
with the electronic tallies on the machines. To ameliorate this problem, critics
have urged that the machines be outfitted with printers to produce backup paper
records of individual votes.
"The counting of signatures and reporting of discrepancies to the canvassing
board are fundamental to counting votes correctly" said Martha Mahoney,
a University of Miami law professor and member of the reform coalition who led
the analysis. "It’s really important to do this on election night.
How do we know otherwise whether the machines are correctly reporting every
Seth Kaplan, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections office,
said the discrepancies do not necessarily indicate voting machine malfunctions.
Human error in counting and the lack of a policy for the inclusion of absentee
and early voters could account for many of the mistakes, he said.
Kaplan said his department recognized that the signature counts were off and
said it was something the supervisor of elections office would seek to improve
in the future. "Are we batting 1.000 on them all being correct? No,"
Kaplan said. "It’s a training issue. Whenever we become aware of
issues, we re-emphasize those certain issues in training."
Kaplan said that under the department’s new leadership, the discrepancies
would likely be looked into. Former Supervisor Constance A. Kaplan, who is not
related to Seth Kaplan, resigned after irregularities were found in the March
8 slot machine referendum.
"All of these procedures are under review, and these are the kind of things
we want to tighten up," Kaplan said. "This is something that we will
be looking at."
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson, who served on the canvassing
board in the 2004 elections, declined to comment on the discrepancies, saying
she was not familiar with the coalition’s study. "Things can happen
where people decide not to vote, they can sign in and leave, so I don’t
really know if that’s a problem," she said.
Jenny Nash, a spokeswoman for Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, said
the issue of reconciling signature totals and machine counts was a local one
and is not the concern of her office. "Each supervisor has their own process
for how they reconcile the numbers," Nash said.
The discrepancies between the signatures and the ballots are not necessarily
indicative of iVotronic machine problems or missing votes. In some instances
the differences were due to sloppy counting of signatures by poll workers.
For example, Precinct 11 recorded 693 votes and 849 signatures. But a Daily
Business Review inspection of the voting log found 694 signatures. Another precinct
with a major difference was Precinct 362, which recorded 583 votes and 859 signatures.
A review of that precinct’s signature log found 580 signatures.
Nevertheless, inaccurate signature counts could interfere with the ability
of the supervisor of elections office and the county canvassing board to promptly
identify problems in a close election, such as machine malfunctions and election
fraud, before the election results are certified.
Miami-Dade and Broward counties have experienced a series of embarrassing election
glitches since they adopted touch-screen voting systems in 2002. In March, Constance
Kaplan resigned as elections supervisor after reporting to the county manager
that in the vote on slot machines, nearly 1,300 fewer votes were recorded than
there were voters who showed up to vote in the single-issue election. County
leaders are considering switching to a paper-based optical scan system.
In an audit of the 2002 general election, the Miami-Dade Audit and Management
Services Department found discrepancies between signatures and ballots cast
in 48 randomly ed precincts. The audit found that the discrepancies did not
affect any election outcomes. But it recommended greater attention to reconciling
signature and ballot counts. It called this an "an important audit control,
as well as a positive tool for promoting precinct worker corrective action."
Last October, the election reform coalition wrote to Secretary of State Hood,
expressing its concern about the absence of a statewide system for reconciling
voter signatures and electronic ballots.
"Despite the statutory requirement to account for voted ballots, the Polling
Place Procedures Manual does not include a procedure for accounting for electronic
ballots, counting signatures of voters, or explaining any gaps between these
figures," the letter to Hood said.
Despite the letter, Hood did not put any such system in place in the touch-screen
The voting process works like this: After entering the polling place but before
casting a ballot on an iVotronic machine, Miami-Dade voters must sign next to
their printed name in an election log of registered voters. At the end of Election
Day, poll workers are responsible for counting the signatures and recording
the total on Certificate No. 2, a paper document.
Poll workers are told prior to the election to compare the number of signatures
to the number of votes tallied on the iVotronic machines to find discrepancies.
Any differences could indicate vote fraud, election machine malfunction, poll
worker error or other problems and should be reported to the department.
Seth Kaplan said that poll workers in the November election were told to visually
check the signature count against the machine totals and to report any large
differences to the department. However, that instruction was not written in
the procedures guide for poll workers.
The reform coalition’s analysis and a Daily Business Review spot check
found numerous polling places where there were large discrepancies including
polling places where there were more signatures reported than electronic ballots
cast, and ones where there were more ballots cast than signatures reported.
At Precinct 124, the certificate documented 17 signatures, while the machines
counted 1,301 votes. That precinct has been earmarked as a probable clerical
error in the coalitions study. A check of the voter log by the Daily Business
Review confirmed that there were far more than 17 signatures at the precinct.
It’s the smaller differences that will be scrutinized by the coalition.
For example, in Precinct 41 there were 910 votes and 844 signatures, a difference
of 62. At combined Precinct 117/166, the ballots totaled 995 and the signatures
In some of these polling places, Mahoney speculated, the differences may have
been due to clerical errors by poll workers.
For Precinct 816, in the Church of the Ascension at 11201 SW 160th St., a Review
inspection of the voter log showed 945 signatures, while the iVotronic computer
tape showed a count of 1,032. But the individual machine counts are listed on
the tape as well, and they add up to 945. But the number certified by the canvassing
board came in at 1,116 votes.
In this case, the discrepancy may have been due to an iVotronic machine malfunction.
Lynn Kaplan, a volunteer observer for the reform coalition who was at that polling
place on Nov. 2, said in an interview that as a poll worker was closing down
one of the iVotronic machines at the end of the day, an error message popped
up on the machine’s digital screen saying: "Internal malfunction/unit
closed to save data/vote data corrupted."
Kaplan said that while a control number called a public count said that 84
voters had voted on that machine that day, the computer had tallied no results
The public count shows up on the exterior of a machine and keeps tabs on how
many ballots have been cast each day. The public count number should match the
number of votes recorded on the machine’s memory.
Kaplan also said she witnessed a poll worker take the Personal Electronic Ballot
cartridge from a nearby machine that was in the process of downloading election
data, and the PEB into the malfunctioning machine.
The PEB is used by poll workers to control the machines. It starts up the machines
at the beginning of the day. At poll closing time, PEBs are ed into machines
to download the election results. After the PEB is used to gather all the data,
it should contain the results from the precinct.
After the PEB switch, Kaplan said, the poll worker did another computer printout
of the results. Both machines showed zero votes.
A county computer specialist was summoned. After several printouts of election
results including all machines in the precinct, the final printout showed 84
votes on both machines.
That left significant discrepancies between the signature total for the polling
place, the control number showing votes on the machines and the computer printouts
The machine’s manufacturer, Omaha-based Electronic Systems & Software,
did not respond to request for comment.
Lynn Kaplan said election workers at Precinct 816 had lots of trouble at the
end of the Election Day reconciling the conflicting iVotronic numbers with the
total number of signatures. "I shudder to think what goes on in all the
other precincts if people aren’t keeping up with these things," she
The reform coalition’s Mahoney said she wants the supervisor of elections’
office to investigate what happened that night at Precinct 816.
"It shows a lack of transparency in the system," she said.
The Supervisor of Elections office said it is looking into what happened with
Precinct 816 in response to a Daily Business Review request for an explanation.
Mahoney said the situation in Precinct 816 highlights the need for better procedures
and training for reconciling signature and ballot totals. She also stressed
that the county must investigate discrepancies to see if they resulted from
fraud or equipment malfunction.
She noted that unless the numbers are inspected immediately after the election,
mistakes would not be caught in time for certification, which must be complete
in the 48 hours after the elections.
"It’s a very important comparison," Mahoney said. "With
electronic voting, how can you be sure you’ve got the right number of
ballots? The benchmark has to be the number of voters that came into the polling