Palm Beach County Cursed When it Comes to Elections?

They say in order to see Bloody Mary, you have to walk into the bathroom, close your eyes and say her name three times. But in the case of Palm Beach County elections, in order to see voter accountability, you have to walk into the booth, close your eyes and hope for the best, because there’s a good chance the PBC Elections Office is cursed.

Within the past eight years, the PBC Elections Office had the infamous three-week-long recount that controversially decided the 2000 presidential race and hundreds of missing absentee ballots in the 2004 presidential race. In August, a month-long recount process began involving the race for PBC Circuit County Judge. All of this together equals a lot of concern for the upcoming presidential election.

“Palm Beach County needs to get better equipment, or we’re going to have major problems in November and in the future,” says Gerald Richman, attorney for the defeated incumbent Richard Wennett.

Richman stated his concerns after his client lost by 61 votes in the disputed judicial race this past September.

Let’s take a trip back to the year 2000, the beginning of the curse. This was the year of the confusing butterfly ballots that led to about 3,000 elderly Jewish voters to mistakenly vote for Pat Buchanan, a Reform Party candidate, according to an article on www.salon.com. This was also the year that nearly 19,000 ballots were thrown out because voters marked their vote for two presidential candidates, according to an article on www.slate.com.

Then there’s the infamous chads, or the holes in voters’ mismarked ballots. As the case traveled to the Supreme Court, George W. Bush was adamant about putting an end to the recount, which the court did by a 5-4 vote.

It was on November 26, 2000 that the Florida Secretary of State and the George W. Bush state campaign co-chair ended the recount and announced Bush the winner by a total of 537 votes.

This scandal gave late night talk show hosts a lot of material and made Florida the butt of many jokes.

“I want to take a moment here to thank the members of the Supreme Court. You folks really cleared up that mess. And Florida, do us a favor – stay out of the next election,” said David Letterman.

It was in March of 2002 that the Federal Court certified both touch-screen machines and optical scan voting machines to be used in further elections, but only the latter includes a paper trail, which is necessary in the event of a recount.

But changing the way citizens vote didn’t solve every problem in the presidential election of 2004. Thousands of absentee ballots went “missing.” Theresa Lepore, supervisor of elections at the time, blamed the post office for the disappearing act. She told the Palm Beach Post, “We take them to the post office, then it’s out of my hands.” Aside from that, Palm Beach County had one of the lowest turnouts for early-voting sites. With only eight sites allotted in the county that had 744,000 registered voters, only 30,000 votes were casted in the first 10 days according to an article on www.commondreams.org.

Besides the drama, 327,698 Palm Beach County voters casted their ballots for John Kerry and only 211,894 voted for George W. Bush. Ironically, George W. Bush ended up winning the elections, mainly due to his beliefs in moral values.

So how does this all play in current day? After a third recount for Circuit County Judge this past September, PBC representatives are proactive about the voting process.

“This has been a blessing in disguise, because we’ve been able to discover frailties in the system,” said PBC Canvassing Board member and Commissioner Mary McCarty at the end of the final recount.

Last week, PBC tested eight optical scanners and found them to be 100 percent accurate. Administrators expect the machines be in working order for November’s elections.

“I’m really curious to see how this election pans out in Palm Beach,” says Megan Tobin, senior pre-med major. “I won’t be surprised if Palm Beach County ends up screwing it up again.”

But other students are optimistic about the outcome of the historic race.

“I think they’ll get it together this time around – if not, there are going to be some serious problems,” says Rick Clark, senior film, video and new media major. “I am definitely wary about it, but I don’t think it’s a curse, I think it’s just a coincidence.”