Recount: Will my vote count?

Incorrectly marked ballots may end up counting -- or not

By Erik von Ancken - Anchor/Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Florida's ongoing statewide machine recount is merely a second tally of all of the votes cast on Election Day, early, provisionally or by mail.

The machine recount is meant to make sure all of the numbers tallied on election night match the ones counted by machine a second time, said Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles.

Questionable ballots with improperly marked votes are not counted during the machine recount, just as they are not counted during the election night count.

Questionable ballots will be examined an counted, if possible, only if the   Florida Secretary of State orders a hand recount in the event that less than .25 percent of all votes cast separate the top two candidates.

"The voters should understand we're going to that furthest extreme to count every single possible vote out there," Cowles said.

Cowles said machines cannot determine voter intent on ballots with "under" votes where no candidate in a single race is marked, or "over" votes, where more than one candidate is marked.

"An under vote is when the voter does not make any choices in that contest," Cowles said. "An over vote is when they vote for more candidates than they were allowed to."

Cowles said after the Florida election fiasco in 2000, the Florida Department of Elections created statewide guidelines for all elections offices to give canvassing boards clear examples of how to determine voter intent.

Guidelines show that generally any mark -- an arrow, circle, dash or underline -- next to, on or near a single candidate's name counts for that candidate.

More than one mark or a mark extending into a second candidate's name does not count, Cowles said.

Cowles said the machines are programmed, however, to try to prevent under voting and over voting in the first place at the polls on Election Day.

"If the ballot is completely blank, they didn't fill in a single voter, the ballot comes back to the voter and says 'blank ballot,'" Cowles said.

If a machine at the polls detects an over or under vote, a worker will give the voter the option to correct his or her ballot.

Before an election, the canvassing board -- three elected officials selected to examine ballots, typically a judge, a county commissioner and the Supervisor of Elections -- meets to compare signatures on vote-by-mail ballots.

The signature on the ballot must match the signature on a voter's registration form.

On Election Day and election night, the canvassing board examines provisional ballots to attempt to verify a voter's identify.

Voters who cannot provide identification at the polls on Election Day are allowed to cast provisional ballots with the hope that they can later provide identification or that the canvassing board can verify identity.

Cowles said sometimes voters do the strangest things, like filling in ridiculous or hopeful names as write-in candidates.

"Mickey Mouse is very popular in Orange County," Cowles said.  "God is another popular one."

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