Overheating Palm Beach County machines give incorrect totals, force Florida recount to restart

Recount in undecided Florida Senate and governor's races stalls amid multiple lawsuits and faulty machinery

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published November 14, 2018 2:30PM (EST)

Elections staff load ballots into machine as recounting begins at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office on November 11, 2018 in Lauderhill, Florida (AP/Joe Skipper)
Elections staff load ballots into machine as recounting begins at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office on November 11, 2018 in Lauderhill, Florida (AP/Joe Skipper)

Palm Beach County, Florida, was forced to restart its recount of about 175,000 early votes after its decade-old machines began to overheat and produce incorrect vote totals.

Susan Bucher, the supervisor of elections for the county, told reporters Tuesday that the recount will have to restart after the machine malfunctions wiped out more than one day's work. The machines, she said, "started overheating so as a result the tally types are not reconciling properly.”

“We’re disappointed by the mechanical problems that are going to cause a further delay in the recount,” Bucher said, according to the Miami Herald. “It became evident through the vigorous pace of counting that the machines used for the recount were starting to get stressed.”

Bucher said that the county flew in a mechanic to fix the issues but admitted "we don't have a lot of assurances," WPTV reported.

Bucher previously said on Monday that the county would not be able to meet Thursday's 3 p.m. deadline, which was set by Republican state officials. Unlike machines in the other 66 counties, which can count multiple races at once, Palm Beach's outdated machines can only count ballots for one contest at a time.

The Palm Beach Post reported that $11 million had been set aside for new machines but they were not purchased because the state is still in the process of determining how to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Bucher told reporters she thought it wouldn't be "very responsible to spend $11.1 million on new equipment that's not going to be viable in 2020.”

Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered a recount of more than 8 million ballots in the state's 67 counties because the margins for the governor, Senate, and agriculture commissioner races were all below the 0.5 percent threshold to trigger an automatic recount.

Palm Beach County has requested a deadline extension, which was granted by Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers, who extended the deadline to Nov. 20. Detzner's lawyers had already filed a motion to move the case to a federal court before Gievers could issue her order, the Miami Herald reported.

If the county cannot complete its recount by the deadline, it must submit the original count and a formal explanation why the recount was not completed. The law also says that canvassing boards should finish the recount if this occurs.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who trails Gov. Rick Scott by about 12,100 votes in his re-election race, also filed a federal lawsuit in Tallahassee asking that all counties get an extension to ensure a full vote count, CNN reported.

“Unsurprisingly, officials in one of Florida’s largest counties — Palm Beach — have already indicated that it may be impossible to complete a machine recount for all outstanding races by the deadline of Thursday at 3 p.m.,” the lawsuit says.

The suit said the deadline would “impose a severe burden — disenfranchisement — on the right to vote of the voters who cast ballots that have thus far been improperly rejected and will only be counted accurately if both a machine and manual recount are completed.”

Nelson is also challenging the way supervisors are required to count "under-votes" and "over-votes" in cases where voter intent is evident, and a law that requires supervisors to reject mail ballots if the voter's signature does not appear to match government records.

“We seek to give all 67 county supervisors sufficient time to finish the legally-mandated recount and do so accurately,” Nelson campaign spokesman Dan McLaughlin told the Palm Beach Post.

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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