Palm Beach County will count by hand 60,000 botched absentee ballots. (Photo by Larisa Epatko.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Palm Beach County officials are planning to hand count the 60,000 absentee ballots that a printer botched this week.

Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher told WLRN’s Rick Stone that each of those 60,000 ballots “will have to be examined, the intent of each voter discerned, and the vote transferred to a properly printed ballot so it can be read by a tabulation scanner.”

Bucher told the Palm Beach Post that the tabulating machines in the county probably won’t be able to accurately read half of the botched ballots. So, she is going to “bring in dozens of workers to duplicate the ballots so they can be read by the machines.”
However, an attorney in Tallahassee is concerned that human error will present its own set of problems.

“Our main issue is how to deal with the defective ballots,” said Tallahassee attorney Barry Richard, who represents three Florida Supreme Court justices who face merit retention in the November election. “There’s going to be a lot of people opening ballots and recording votes on new ballots. This obviously is fraught with the possibility for human error.”

He said he is hopeful a machine can be calibrated to read the defective ballots instead of having workers duplicate them.

“I’m not concerned people are going to intentionally commit fraud with the ballots,” Richard said. “But when you have that many people going through thousands of ballots by hand, transferring a dot on one page to a dot on another page, that’s what concerns us.”

Other experts have said that this method has been used before to handle messed-up ballots and has not compromised the vote.

In 2000, Palm Beach County and others had to hand count ballots because of the infamous “hanging chads” problem during that contentious presidential election.

This is just another case of why design matters in elections — and even the smallest design errors have to be taken very seriously.