TAMPA — Poor management, preparation and communication marred Hillsborough County elections in 2008, complicating the debut of new voting machines, the Supervisor of Elections Office said in a report released Tuesday.
The report by a board of four technical experts found that the office, then supervised by Buddy Johnson, “struggled to adequately plan, execute and report in an orderly, consistent, and persistent fashion.” Without such planning, “it is not surprising that the election results were delayed,” the report stated. Johnson’s administration, aside from spending irregularities that are now the focus of an FBI investigation and numerous audits, was characterized by Election Day mishaps such as tabulation delays and lost ballots. Johnson’s successor, Phyllis Busansky, ordered the report on the elections shortly after taking office in January.
The report concluded that the delays that marred the August primary were caused by a glitch in the scanning of absentee ballots. And results in the November general election were late because ballot scanners were overwhelmed by high voter turnout, the report said. Another delay was caused when laptops printed absentee ballots only on one side or with illegible text.
The report blamed the vendor, Premier Election Solutions, for many of the problems. It recommended better communication with Premier in the future to avoid similar issues.
“I thought it was a good overview of what the issues were,” said Chris Riggall, a Premier spokesman. “I don’t think there are any areas of dispute here. The report reflects what occurred and what needs to take place as we move forward.” The report also pointed out that during the certification of Hillsborough’s election equipment, the state’s Division of Elections likely “did not test the Premier System under high volume stress.” In the future, the report stated, staff must better understand the difference between testing conditions and actual conditions on Election Day.
Additional recommendations include strengthening the office’s technology staff and implementing a more disciplined management system.