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Palm Beach Post

Tuesday, April 9

Wellington candidate sues, seeks new vote

By Meghan Meyer, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Armed with affidavits from 11 voters who said they had problems using the new touch-screen machines in Wellington's village council runoff, Councilman Al Paglia filed a lawsuit Friday in Palm Beach County Circuit Court contesting his loss in the March 26 election.

Paglia lost to Lizbeth Benacquisto by four votes in an election that also registered 78 under-votes -- voters who used the machine but did not register a vote. Paglia and his lawyers said faulty machines might have foiled voters' attempts to cast their ballots for him, and they're asking for a new election.

"We believe that valid votes were rejected, which more than likely would have changed the results," attorney Charlotte Danciu said. Danciu's father, former Boca Raton Mayor Emil Danciu, filed a similar suit after he lost the March 12 election for that city's commission. His lawsuit is pending.

Paglia sued Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore, the county and Wellington canvassing boards, and Benacquisto. The suit alleges that the election results are in doubt because poll workers weren't properly trained and voters couldn't cast their ballots in secret. And the machines malfunctioned, prevented the disabled and Spanish-speakers from voting, and didn't provide paper receipts, the suit said.

Paglia has spent his time since the election soliciting voters' tales of trouble at the polls. He took out newspaper ads, conducted a phone campaign, held a meeting and sent out mass e-mails. In the affidavits, voters said they weren't allowed to vote in secrecy, the screens didn't register a vote when they touched it, and that the machine froze, wouldn't let them choose between English or Spanish, and spit out their activation cards. Joseph Naulty, who is blind and partially deaf, said poll workers had to guide his hand to the correct button because the machines didn't accommodate the visually impaired. He wants a machine with raised buttons he can feel, instead of the flat buttons on the machine he used in the Wellington election.

"I don't like this machine," Naulty said. "I think it should be dumped. It doesn't meet my needs and it violates my rights."

Danciu said these problems should have been worked out earlier instead of making the municipal elections a test run for the new machines.

"This was a very important race to voters in the city of Wellington," she said. "It deserves no less respect and preparation than the other races."

Benacquisto takes her oath of office at tonight's council meeting. Paglia said he plans to go to the meeting to speak during the public comment period. He said he still plans to stay involved in public life if his lawsuit does not yield a new election, and doesn't think protesting this election will adversely affect his political future.

"I'm not worried about that," Paglia said. "I think people will vote for Al Paglia based on what he stands for, not on this."