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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Vote counting won't end in Hillsborough until this afternoon

5

November

TAMPA -- The counting of Hillsborough County's votes shut down about 3:30 a.m. today with about 6,000 absentee votes and thousands in early votes still outstanding.

The office will resume the count at noon today and probably won't be finished until three to four hours later.

In addition to those batches of uncounted votes, County Judge James Dominguez said two polling sites reported failures in getting their votes recorded into the scanning machine. They included precincts 651, 626 and 305. The ballots exist, but they haven't been uploaded yet so that they can be tabulated with the rest of the county totals, said Dominguez, who sits on the county canvassing board.

There's also an untold number of provisional ballots to be counted by the canvassing board late Thursday afternoon.

It's been a slog counting Hillsborough's totals. As of 3:15 a.m., only 377 precincts of 384 precincts were counted, plus an additional 100,000 early votes.

For most of the night, employees with the elections office dodged questions from reporters, and the supervisor, Buddy Johnson, couldn't be reached. It wasn't until 11:25 p.m. Tuesday that Johnson arrived at the elections office to give a brief, mostly positive, statement about how well voting had gone.

Even though another canvassing board member, Rose Ferlita, had by then blamed the vendor of the vote machines for the delays, Johnson said he was looking forward to continuing a partnership with Premier. He downplayed the delays as minor.

But by 3 a.m., Johnson said the "gloves were off" and he was blaming the vendor. He said he spent more than two hours on a conference call with officials with the vendor, Premier Elections Solutions.

"They weren't speaking the truth about what they promised," Johnson said. "I wish I had told you that at first and was less nice, but we haven't had much help from the vendor for the second time in a row."

Unlike the primary, when Premier officials accepted blame for another glitch, this time the company hesitated to fall on its sword. Elections officials said at about 9:30 p.m. that Premier officials were preparing a statement about the delays, but such a statement never came. Johnson later sounded upset that no statement was released by the company.

"I asked their people for the statement," Johnson told a room full of reporters about 2:30 a.m. "It was supposed to be done at 9:30, but have you seen it?"

Johnson said he fully expected the company to push back and cast some blame with his own staff. He said their was a disagreement about the capacity of the early voting machines. The delay was caused because the size of the data was too large to be counted. About 147,000 votes had difficulty getting counted by 26 early vote machines. By the time the office shut down, half of the machines had been uploaded, Johnson said, but it's unclear how many votes remain untallied.

Judge Dominguez said the decision was made to stop counting votes because it was so late.

"The staff is getting tired," Dominguez said. "At this point, accuracy to me is more important."

These delays came as Democrats watched their nominee for Supervisor of Elections, Phyllis Busansky, lag behind Johnson by about 4,000 votes.

"We saw many problems at the polls," said Pat Kemp, vice chair of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party. "I came here tonight, at 3 a.m., because I'm concerned about what we're seeing."

By nearly 4 a.m. today, Johnson remained in the office after almost everyone had left. He said he just got off the phone with the president of Premier and didn't have time to think about his race.

"(The Premier) president told me that he wanted to keep our business," Johnson said. "I was honest with the guy. I told him he had a lot of ground to make up."

Times staff writer

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[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:39am]

    

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