A tub of 300 mail-in ballots was placed on the wrong rack and not counted at the Volusia County Elections Office on Election Day.
The mishap didn’t change the outcome of the Aug. 28 primary. The ballots were counted Aug. 30, when the Volusia County Canvassing Board met.
“When we were archiving the empty envelopes [from vote-by-mail ballots] yesterday, we discovered this tub on the same rack,” Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis said at the Aug. 30 meeting. “It should have been on the tabulating rack; however, it was put on the empty-envelope rack. It was an oversight — a human error.”
The mistake was discovered on election night, when staff members noticed the “number of people signed in to vote did not match the number of ballots,” Lewis said.
While processing mail-in ballots, staff members place the empty envelopes in one place, and the actual ballots in another place. A Department of Elections staff member evidently placed the ballots in the wrong spot.
The 300 misplaced ballots all originated from DeLand-area voters.
About two dozen people — mainly candidates, representatives of political parties, and journalists — packed the lower level of the Volusia County Historic Courthouse to witness the mislaid ballots being counted.
Judge Christopher Kelly, chairman of the Canvassing Board, reflected on the crowd at the meeting, which ran nearly six hours.
“I wish we had people watching here every day what goes on, and the checks and balances that are in place, because some of the things that do come up, we know about them because of the checks and balances,” he said. “When all is said and done, I have great confidence that the votes that are taking place are being recorded accurately.”
While the winners and losers of the election did not change once the ballots were counted, 300 votes could have potentially swung the result in several contests.
In the race for the District 1 seat on the Volusia County Council, the second- and third-place finishers were incumbent Pat Patterson, with 6,310 votes on election night, and Jeff Brower, with 6,101 votes.
The margin between Patterson and Brower was 209 votes, and the newfound ballots could have changed who first-place finisher Barb Girtman would face in the November runoff.
Girtman, who had 6,689 votes on election night and gained 95 votes after the Canvassing Board’s final count, will face Patterson Nov. 6.
Patterson, who has run for elected office many times since the mid-1990s, wasn’t particularly fazed by the ballot mishap.
“It’s a little disconcerting to a candidate … but you’re going to have some hiccup in there,” he said. “I’m sure there are people who are going to rip poor Lisa [Lewis]’s pants off, but she does a good job.”
Patterson has seen the other side of the coin a few times, as a member of the Canvassing Board.
“It’s a hectic process,” he said. “Really, as a candidate, you’ve just got to keep your cool.”
In the Republican primary for District 26 in the Florida House of Representatives, Elizabeth Fetterhoff appeared to beat Michael Cantu by a mere 60 votes on election night, with 5,683 votes to Cantu’s 5,623.
After all was said and done Aug. 30, the gap widened to 81 votes, with Fetterhoff having 5,746 votes to Cantu’s 5,665.
Despite being in a close race, Fetterhoff wasn’t too concerned about the mix-up.
“My thing is, it’s human error. Things happen,” she said. “Maybe look at the system of how they keep track of the boxes, and just make sure every vote counts, and moving forward, just make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
“Like I said, it’s human error,” she added. “Sometimes, these things happen.”