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Election totals aren't all final; provisional ballots yet to be counted

Pinellas County elections worker John Morton stacks precinct signs in a warehouse Wednesday afternoon.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Pinellas County elections worker John Morton stacks precinct signs in a warehouse Wednesday afternoon.

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's election still isn't quite over.

An estimated 17,000 provisional ballots have yet to be counted, elections officials said Wednesday, and the number is likely to climb above 20,000 as some larger counties like Miami-Dade and Broward complete their tallies.

The number of provisional ballots includes 1,024 issued in Pinellas County, 387 in Pasco and 141 in Hernando County. Hillsborough County, which faced the biggest voting glitches in the state, did not produce any provisional ballot numbers Wednesday.

The county that required the largest number of voters to cast provisional ballots was the one that President-elect Barack Obama visited on Monday. Duval County, which experienced serious problems during the 2000 election, racked up 2,915 provisional ballots. The second most: 2,046 from Palm Beach, home of 2000's infamous butterfly ballot.

The provisional ballots are unlikely to make a difference in the presidential election. Obama won Florida by more than 200,000 votes.

But those ballots could become important in some other races. For instance, every ballot cast on Amendment 3, a constitutional amendment dealing with a tax break, may have to be recounted because the preliminary results show the proposal passing with 60.4 percent, barely above the 60 percent threshold required for passage.

Provisional ballots were supposed to do away with controversy. In the 2000 presidential election, some Florida voters were turned away from the polls because workers mistakenly thought they weren't registered to vote or that they were felons prohibited from voting.

A 2002 federal law, the Help America Vote Act, called for the states to issue provisional ballots to those would-be voters. But during the 2004 presidential primaries, county canvassing boards across the state rejected 41 percent of the approximately 2,000 provisional ballots.

Provisional ballots weren't the only thing left to be counted after Tuesday. Hillsborough and Manatee counties both were unable to come up with vote tallies because of problems with equipment provided by Premier Election Systems, formerly known as Diebold.

Manatee finally got its problems fixed by midmorning Wednesday, but Supervisor Bob Sweat was still steaming hours later. He had called Premier officials before the election to ask how to deal with a candidate who withdrew, he said, but the guidance he was offered failed to deal with the problem, which shut down the system for hours.

"I'm not pointing fingers or anything, but when you call somebody, you expect them to cover everything with you, and that didn't happen," said Sweat, who was late with his results for the first time in 24 years in office.

All in all, though, Secretary of State Kurt Browning talked Wednesday as if he felt like the monkey of the 2000 recount was off Florida's back.

"We had a good election," he said. "We did not have the meltdown or the doom and gloom that was predicted by a number of different groups and individuals."

Election totals aren't all final; provisional ballots yet to be counted 11/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 9:59pm]
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