Count Resumes With Hillsborough Elections Chief Race In Limbo
TAMPA - More than a dozen Hillsborough County elections office workers hunkered down in a glass-walled room in Brandon this afternoon and started to count what could add up to about 70,000 ballots that have yet to be tabulated. They started with 6,000 absentee ballots that came in on Election Day, and it took most of the afternoon to count them. By late afternoon, workers were expected to begin counting the ballots from two precincts that didn't flow through the optical scanning machines. They numbered about 4,000. That likely would take them through the rest of the day. The counting would stop when the last ballot passed through the counter, and that could be 9 p.m. or later. "Time frames are fluid," said Hillsborough County Judge James Dominguez, who leads the canvassing board, which is overseeing the process.Thursday, the counting continues. Dominguez said the remaining votes to be counted are about 60,000 early votes that went untallied on Election Day. Even though the counting will continue for another day, every vote cast will be counted, he said. "It is just a question of when they will get counted," the judge said. Provisional ballots were to be counted Thursday night and overseas absentee ballots, next week.Absent during the process early Wednesday afternoon was Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson, who himself is caught in the recount web. His election hangs in the balance as challenger Phyllis Busansky is less than 4,000 votes behind in a 400,000 ballot race. Johnson did not return two messages left for him at his office and on his cell phone. If he was in the office, he did not talk with reporters. He declined to comment when asked in a hallway about what went wrong last night. Busansky said she is worried about having her opponent supervising this close ballot count. "It does concern me that a candidate is overseeing this race," she said. The blame for why the votes could not be tabulated Tuesday night was spread around, but election officials laid most of the blame on Premier Elections Solutions, the company hired by Johnson to provide and operate the optical scan voting equipment. Dominguez said the software was responsible for the glitches. "It was all technical," he said. "It was a frustration." A statement from Premier on Wednesday said it appeared an overload of data stalled the system. The statement said, "It's important to note that all votes were successfully and securely cast and recorded. Premier sincerely regrets any inconvenience and the reporting delays caused by this issue. "We share the Hillsborough County election office's frustration during this hectic time," the statement said. Everyone in the elections office had hoped the count would have concluded last night, Dominguez said. "It destroyed them" when the system failed, he said of the elections workers. Pat Kemp, vice chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee, was at the count on Wednesday afternoon. She said more could have been done to fix any problems that arose Tuesday. "I think there were many things that could have been anticipated to make this run more smoothly," she said. She said precincts should have had laptops to verify voters' registrations rather than having already overworked poll workers calling the main office at every turn. "There could have been better planning," she said, "better execution."
Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at 259-7760.