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DEMOCRATS.COM EXCLUSIVE: Absentee Ballot Counting Fraud Found In Escambia County
Paul Lukasiak

An examination of data provided by the Miami Herald [1] that was collected during its examination of overvoted ballots provides compelling evidence of fraud in the counting of absentee ballots in Escambia County. The data shows that out of over 21,500 absentee ballots cast in Escambia County, not one voter overvoted their ballot by placing marks next to the names of only two presidential candidates. However, 296 absentee voters placed three or more marks on their presidential ballot.

The odds against this occurring naturally are vanishingly small. And when one considers that the Escambia County Canvassing Board manually duplicated over 2,400 absentee ballots that were originally read by machine as overvotes and undervotes, the only conclusion is that the duplicate ballots created in Escambia County did not reflect what was on the original absentee ballots themselves.

According to the Orlando Sentinel [2], over 10,000 ballots were duplicated in at least 26 Florida Counties because they were "damaged or defective" [3]. These included ballots that contained overvotes and undervotes where "voter intent" could be determined. All but a handful of these ballots were absentee ballots duplicated in Republican dominated counties where votes cast at the polls were scanned and tabulated in individual precincts.

Nearly one quarter of these duplicated ballots came from Escambia County alone, and those duplicated ballots represented over 11% of the absentee ballots cast in Escambia County [4]. And according to the Sentinel "Escambia's 'duplicating team' of more than a dozen poll workers went to great lengths -- working until 2 a.m. -- to make sure their absentee voters got a second or third look to have a mistaken ballot corrected and duplicated."

The Sentinel also says that the duplication of ballots was done "with no outside scrutiny." This was an apparent violation of the law concerning "duplicated" ballots, which requires that when ballots are duplicated it must be done "in the presence of witnesses."

Optically scanned ballots with distinct marks for two different candidates are not infrequent phenomena. They occur less frequently on absentee ballots than on ballots cast at the polls (when there is no "voter protection" at the polls). Various factors can influence the rate at which such ballots are cast, including the make-up of the absentee pool of voters, as well as ballot design. (The overvote rate is increased when the presidential race is spread over two columns, with much of that increase caused by a greater number of ballots that are "double marked".)

Yet even allowing for such factors, the complete lack of "double marked" overvotes in the Herald data from Escambia County's absentee votes would have to be considered highly suspicious, and grounds for an investigation into ballot tampering. But the odds against this occurring in the absence of fraud become utterly prohibitive when one considers that 296 absentee ballots were cast in which three or more marks were made. In most counties, there are more "double marked" overvotes than overvotes with three or more marks. No other county even comes close to the results found in Escambia County.

Other Florida counties also show results that warrant investigation. In both Bay and Santa Rosa Counties, there are so few overvoted absentee ballots relative to the number of absentee ballots cast that ballot tampering is a very strong possibility in both counties. At least two other counties (Flagler and Seminole) have very low, but not quite unimaginable, overvote rates among their absentee ballots.

But Escambia County is unique in that its absentee overvotes were exclusively from ballots that were marked three or more times. Escambia's absentee overvote rate is not low enough to raise suspicion in and of itself. Rather, it is the absolute lack of any double-marked ballots among Escambia's overvoted absentee ballots that indicates that fraud was committed in Escambia when the absentee ballots were hand counted and duplicated.

For a detailed analysis, examine the accompanying tables.


If the Herald data is accurate, there is no logical explanation for what occurred in Escambia County other than ballot tampering. The complete lack of unrecovered double marked absentee ballots means that ballots that were received with two distinct marks for listed candidates must have been "duplicated" as ballots with a vote for a single candidate. Marks on the original ballots may or may not have been erased. Other forms of ballot tampering may also have occurred.

Circumstantial evidence provides additional support for the conclusion of fraud. Although Escambia County had spent over $500,000 on precinct based scanning equipment that had the potential to provide voters with both overvote and undervote protection, Escambia County did not turn on voter protection at the polls. The reason cited for not doing so was to save money on duplicate ballots, which cost 23 cents each. That may explain why overvote protection was turned off, but does not explain why undervote protection was turned off. There are no costs for duplicate ballots for undervoted ballots. The voter is simply handed back the ballot, and marks it in a way that can be read by the scanning equipment.

This "money saving" explanation also flies in the face of the decision to duplicate absentee ballots. It would have cost less than $750 to provide duplicate ballots at the polls to the 3201 people who overvoted in the Presidential race. Yet Escambia County spent over $550 on duplicating over 2400 absentee ballots (excluding any associated labor costs.)

Ballot tampering in a federal election is both a federal and state offense, and should be investigated by both the Federal Department of Justice, and the Florida Attorney General's office. But the decision to turn off voter protection, and then to duplicate only absentee overvoted and undervoted ballots also represents discriminatory conduct on the part of Escambia County.

According to the latest census, 24.1% of Escambia citizens are African American, and according to the state of Florida, 16.6% of Escambia's registered voters were black. Blacks make up 30% of the registered Democrats in Escambia (and only 2% of the Republicans) and 86% of black voters are registered as Democrats (6% are registered as Republicans.) In this election, there was an over 10 point difference in the Bush/Gore margin between poll cast and absentee votes, an indication that there was a significantly lower percentage of blacks among absentee voters than among voters who cast their votes at the polls. And there can be little doubt that the Escambia County Canvassing Board was well aware of these facts.

Ultimately, the decision by Escambia County to turn off voter protection at the polls while duplicating overvoted and undervoted ballots must have been a conscious effort to disenfranchise voters, a disproportionate number of black voters in Escambia County. As such, it is a violation of the Florida and U. S. Constitutions, as well as the Federal Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act.

It is past time that the behavior of the Escambia County Elections Board be subject to a full investigation, along with any number of other voting "irregularities" that were reported in Florida. It was a swamp down there and it's time to look the alligators in the eye.


[1] The conclusions in this article are based on the assumption of the accuracy of the Herald's data. Requests for confirmation from the Herald regarding the accuracy of the data have met with no response to date. See explanatory notes that accompany the tables for a full explanation of the data.

[2] David Damron and Roger Roy, "Mangled ballots resurrected", Orlando Sentinel, 5/7/2001 http://orlandosentinel.com/news/orl-asec-ballots050701.story?coll=orl%2Dnews%2Dheadlines David Damron and Roger Roy, "2001 New system fumbles votes", Orlando Sentinel, 5/6/2001 http://orlandosentinel.com/news/orl-newsystem.story?coll=orl%2Dnews%2Dheadlines

[3] Under the 1998 Florida Supreme Court decision in Beckstrom v Volusia County Canvassing Board, ballots containing votes that are unreadable by machines fall under the definition of "damaged or defective" as used in Florida Statute 101.5614 (5). However, it should be noted that the duplication of op-scan ballots is technically illegal; the law makes a distinction between "ballot cards" (used with punch card equipment) and "paper ballots" (used with optically scanned equipment), and permits duplication of ballot cards, but requires that the "paper ballots" be "manually at the counting center by the canvassing board."

[4] In and of themselves these numbers are not indicative of fraud; Escambia may have duplicated ballots for all races in which there were overvotes or undervotes where voter intent could be discerned, while other counties may only have duplicated ballots when there were overvotes or undervotes in the Presidential race.