11/17/2004

Tampabay: Pinellas ballot box sat ignored in office

Tampabay: Pinellas ballot box sat ignored in office: "Pinellas ballot box sat ignored in office

Pinellas elections supervisor Deborah Clark will ask the state for permission to change the county's official results.

By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer
Published November 16, 2004

The unmarked brown box sat unnoticed in the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections office until Monday, two weeks after the election, when an employee cleaning a desk stumbled upon it.

Inside were 268 uncounted absentee ballots.

'I think this is a very serious situation,' Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark said Monday, vowing to fire or discipline any employee found to be negligent.

'I assume all responsibility for everything that happened in that department, but I have to rely on other people,' Clark said. 'It's not a one-woman show.'

The unmarked box wasn't the only problem.

Five days ago, Clark sent the state the county's final results for the Nov. 2 election. But her office had failed to perform a standard check to ensure that all ballots had been accounted for."

Clark assumed her staff had performed the check, but they had not.

Now she will ask the state for permission to change Pinellas' official results. The canvassing board will count the missing ballots Thursday.

Although it is numerically possible, officials say the missing ballots probably won't change any results. Only a few races were decided by less than 268 votes - including the presidential contest.

George W. Bush won the presidential race in Pinellas by just 226 votes. While Bush's margin in Pinellas could change, his statewide victory won't.

A city commission seat in South Pasadena and a referendum in Indian Rocks Beach were also decided by fewer than 268 votes.

"If you found a couple hundred thousand votes in Ohio, that might be exciting," said Paul Bedinghaus, chairman of the Pinellas Republican Party. "I expect that human error will continue to occur as long as human beings are involved."

This is the third time since Clark became election supervisor in 2000 that her office has had problems handling ballots.

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