Florida Sees Few Voting Problems

Florida, home of the infamous 2000 recount, had few voting problems during its presidential primary Tuesday, with only one county reporting serious complications.

Bay County, in the Florida Panhandle, suspended its count when U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt (search) — who dropped out of the race two months ago and polled about 1 percent elsewhere in the state — took a 2-to-1 lead over statewide winner U.S. Sen. John Kerry, with almost two-thirds of the county's precincts tabulated.

County elections officials believe the problem was caused by a computer software glitch in the optical scan machines that counted almost all of the 19,000 votes cast. On optical scan machines, voters use pencils to mark their ballots, which are then tabulated by a scanner. Bay officials were going to recount the ballots by hand.

Elsewhere in the state, new touch-screen voting machines allowed voters to cast an electronic ballot by pressing buttons much like those on ATM machines.

The computerized machines replaced the state's infamous punchcard ballots, which produced the dimpled, hanging and pregnant chads at the heart of the 2000 presidential election controversy. The confusion over vote counting led to the 36 days of recounts and legal wrangling that ultimately awarded George W. Bush the presidency.

"If they can figure out how to play 50 bingo cards at once, I think they all can handle this," said retiree Michael Thomas, who voted on the touch-screen machines for the first time Tuesday. "It was easy enough."

Palm Beach County elections supervisor Theresa LePore said the investment in new machines and education for poll workers and voters appears to have been successful.

"I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from voters," LePore said after making several stops at polls throughout the county. "Voters will say, 'Well, I don't understand what all the fuss is about.'"

LePore was criticized in 2000 for the county's confusing ballot design, dubbed the butterfly ballot, which some voters said caused them to vote for conservative third-party candidate Pat Buchanan (search) when they meant to vote for Democrat Al Gore.

Other glitches around the state included:

— Broward County, where a few voters complained that they received ballots for neighboring cities.

— Clearwater, where voting on touch-screen machines was twice interrupted at one polling place when the electricity went out.

— And in Polk County, a volunteer at one polling place mistakenly gave out the Democratic nomination ballot to about 12 non-party members who showed up to vote on the county's tax increase for indigent health care. The mistaken votes couldn't be retrieved.

Most voters — even Democrats who were the most angry after the 2000 loss — say Florida learned from its embarrassing role in the 2000 election.

About seven in 10 voters Tuesday said they were very or somewhat confident that their votes would be counted accurately this year, according to an Associated Press exit poll. Less than one in 10 said they were not at all confident.

"I think the problems have been taken care of, and if there are new problems, I feel confident they will address those issues," said 62-year-old Barbara Korshin of West Palm Beach. "You learn from your mistakes."