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Pasco county's voting website buckled under traffic, officials say

For a few minutes on Election Day, Pasco held center stage in America's biggest battleground state.

Because of its history of reporting the first batch of results almost immediately after polls close at 7 p.m., political junkies look to Pasco for an early read on Florida's lean.

Just ask Steve Schale, who ran President Barack Obama's Florida campaign in 2008 and was an adviser this year.

"Like most good political hacks," he wrote on Twitter, "my 7:00 pm starts in Pasco. You all are very efficient in counting ballots."

This brings us to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Thousands upon thousands of people began to refresh Pasco's elections website.

No results.

A minute passed. Nothing. Another minute. Nada.

Numbers began showing up in other counties. (The horror!)

Said veteran Pasco legislator Mike Fasano: "I almost threw my computer out the window."

Finally — after an agonizing eight minutes — Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley wrote one of his frequent Twitter updates: "Pasco SOE website crashes due to a gazillion # of hits! I'll tweet EV/ABS numbers. Results should be up soon."

He tweeted early returns for the presidential campaign, the U.S. Senate contest and Pasco's clerk of courts race. Then, at 7:16 p.m., he announced the results were online after one of his IT staffers scrambled to accommodate the crush of visitors.

"It was the longest eight minutes of my life," he said.

Here's how Kurt Browning experienced the excruciating wait:

"We were watching — well, we were attempting to watch the returns come in," said Browning, Pasco's elections chief for 26 years before serving as secretary of state under two governors. "We kept looking, kept looking. Finally, about five minutes after 7, I called somebody in the supervisor's office and said, 'What's going on?'"

When Browning ran the office, "we always prided ourselves on getting returns out a minute or two after 7 o'clock. It kind of became the expectation."

The tradition continued after Corley took office. Browning said his successor is often faster.

"He was almost neurotic about it because he knew I was going to be watching," Browning said. "He probably thinks I'm mad at him, and I'm certainly not."

So what caused the unusual interest in Pasco this year?

Part of the demand could be tied to a phenomenon from midday Tuesday, before results were released. Starved for information, politicos noticed Pasco's hourly turnout updates broken down by party.

Corley said he was the first county election official to provide such information. Few, if any, other supervisors provide real-time turnout on Election Day. Most simply show the number of early and absentee ballots that had been cast.

Fasano tweeted the turnout figures each hour. Veteran Florida GOP operative Alberto Martinez cited the numbers as evidence of Republican enthusiasm.

Karl Rove tweeted Pasco's turnout figures. The National Review gave Pasco a high-profile plug. Someone saw a mention on CNN. Corley said he missed a call from a British journalist.

Corley is bemused by all of the attention. People only recently noticed the real-time turnout, but his office started posting that information during municipal elections in 2007. "It's just a great tool for transparency," he said.

For the record, despite the panicked political junkies, Tallahassee election officials received Pasco's early voting and absentee returns at 7:02 p.m.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

.Fast facts

How Pasco voted

If you aren't one of those political junkies who nervously refreshed Pasco's elections website Tuesday night, you might have missed the final returns. President Barack Obama won Florida by a razor-thin margin, but Mitt Romney took Pasco by 14,000 votes, or a little less than 7 percentage points.

Pasco county's voting website buckled under traffic, officials say 11/10/12 [Last modified: Saturday, November 10, 2012 1:58pm]
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