State Politics

Human error forces Manatee elections officials to start over with recount

Recount under way at Manatee’s Supervisor of Elections office Monday

The Canvassing Board convenes at the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office to recount ballots Monday morning.
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The Canvassing Board convenes at the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office to recount ballots Monday morning.

A human error forced the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office to completely start over with the recount of ballots in three statewide elections.

“We ran about 43,000 ballots before we caught the error,” Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett said.

Bennett said someone missed a button, that it was a “simple mistake.” He added that it was his fault the button got missed during programming.

The machines were certified back to zero as of 2:22 p.m. and recounts were set to begin again shortly after. Bennett said they will do at least one manual recount as well after the machine count is completed.

“We had to go back to the beginning so the first five hours were not as productive as I would have liked but nothing you can do but start over, so that’s what we’re doing,” Bennett said.

“Basically, we’ve done nothing today,” Manatee County Commissioner Priscilla Trace said early Monday afternoon, after more than five hours of counting was ruled as invalid. Trace, chairwoman of the county commission, is on the local canvassing board.

Trace said it was a human error, but the machines that tabulate the votes counted the overvotes but not the undervotes.

Overvotes are ballots with more than the maximum number of selections made; undervotes are ballots with fewer than the maximum number of possible selections made by the voter.

Despite the error, Bennett and his staff were able to recount about one third of all ballots by the end of the day.

Recess was called at 9:18 p.m. on Monday with approximately 58,000 ballots processed.

Bennett said he”fully expects” to meet the state’s 3 p.m. Thursday deadline and will likely finish by Wednesday.

Early voting ballots were recounted first, followed by about one third of mail-in ballots. The mail-in ballots took slightly longer to recount, as bends and folds in the paper caused jams in the machines. Election Day ballots from precincts will be counted last.

Bennett said they are able to run about 5,000 ballots through the two high-speed counting machines per hour. They have more than 180,000 ballots to count, he said.

Earlier Monday morning, a group of about 15 people crowded around the windows in the lobby and watched as the sealed bags holding the ballots of Manatee County voters were brought into a room at the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office.

The canvassing board, made up of Bennett, Commissioner Trace and Manatee County Judge Mark Singer watched the process and verified bags of ballots.

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The Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office continues to recount all ballots cast in the county as part of a statewide recount ordered Saturday. Three races - governor, U.S. senator and commissioner of agriculture - will be decided by the recount. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

The recount for the U.S. Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner races was ordered by Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner on Saturday.

As stacks of ballots were put through the machines Monday morning before they were forced to start over, there were a couple small jams, but they were quickly cleared. Some of the ballots, Bennett said, were bent, causing them to jam in the machine.

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The Associated Press reported the recount was delayed Sunday in Broward County due to a problem with one of the tabulation machines. In Palm Beach County, the supervisor of elections does not believe her department will be able to meet the state’s recount deadline Thursday.

Broward County elections officials told the Miami Herald Monday they had not yet started recounting the more than 700,000 ballots cast there. The recount may not start until Tuesday. Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes said she was not concerned that her office would not meet the deadline.

A small group of people who gathered in the lobby of the Manatee elections office in Bradenton were allowed into the room where votes were being counted. They included representatives of the Democratic party and several candidates.

Representatives of the Republican party as well as Rick Scott and Matt Caldwell campaigns were also in the room. Republican Scott holds a small lead in the race for U.S. Senate over Democrat Bill Nelson, while Caldwell, a Republican, trails Democrat Nikki Fried in the race for state agriculture commissioner.

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The Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office continues to recount all ballots cast in the county as part of a statewide recount ordered Saturday. Three races - governor, U.S. senator and commissioner of agriculture - will be decided by the recount. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

They were ushered into the room and watched as Bennett and assistant supervisor Scott Farrington fed the ballots through the two machines.

Prior to starting, Bennett explained to the group how the sealed bags containing the ballots would be verified by the canvassing board and then run through the machine.

By 8:27 a.m., the whirring of the machines had started as the initial recount began. The recount started again just before 2:30 p.m. after the machines were reset.

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The Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office continues to recount all ballots cast in the county as part of a statewide recount ordered Saturday. Three races - governor, U.S. senator and commissioner of agriculture - will be decided by the recount. Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett answers questions Monday morning. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Others who were at the office to watch the process, which is public, gathered in front of the windows to watch the ballots spit out of the other side of the machines.

Florida law requires an automatic recount in a race in which the difference in vote totals is half a percent or less. The law requires a manual recount if the difference in the vote totals is 1/4 of a percent or less.

The ballots that could not be counted by the machine – whether due to folds or tears in the ballot or overvotes or undervotes – were fed into a different tray than those that were counted and set aside for hand counting.

While faster, the high-speed counting machines are more sensitive than voting machines used at precincts on Election Day, separating out more ballots that have to be verified by the canvassing board.

Singer said there were no issues when the canvassing board met Sunday afternoon for three hours to zero out the vote counting machines, which were used for vote-by-mail ballots.

Singer said the high-speed machines count not only multiple ballots at a time, but can also count multiple races.

Supervisor of Elections officials stopped for a break around 1:15 p.m. By then, the crowd of observers had dwindled to about five people. While those in the tabulation room took their break, other employees continued to work on duplicating ballots that were determined to be unreadable.

The process is set to continue at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Herald staff writer Ryan Ballogg contributed to this story.

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