Bad sample ballot may explain voting shortfall in FL

County saved money by printing sample ballot without screen shots, while neighboring county with higher turnout printed an exact replica of voting touchscreen.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor on
It's looking increasingly likely that those 18,000 missing votes in a congressional race in Florida's Sarasota County really were never cast, rather than being lost in a e-voting snafu. One possible reason for the shortfall: In efforts to save money the county sent out a sample ballot that didn't match the presentation of the touchscreens voters used on election day, according to The St. Peterburg Times.
The sample ballot sent to voters before the Nov. 7 election was different from what appeared on the county's ATM-style touch screen voting machines. The design of the electronic ballot is one of several possible reasons an unusually high number of Sarasota County voters skipped the congressional race while casting votes in other races. ... A sample ballot that did not look like what voters saw on the computer screens on election day could add to that confusion.

"Absolutely, because that's the point of a sample ballot," said Lawrence Norden, who studies elections at the New York University School of Law. "Otherwise, why do it? You might as well send people just a list of the candidates."

Sarasota County Supervisor of Election Kathy Dent defended her ballot, saying it followed state law and, basically, that voters must have been pretty stupid not to be able to navigate the differences.
"I don't think if anyone looked at this they wouldn't be able to figure out what's on the ballot," Dent said. "Yes, there are differences, but what is so different that people couldn't see?"

But Florida law says sample ballots "shall be in the form of the official ballot as it will appear at the polling place on Election Day." Somehow the elections supervisors decided that they didn't need to take that directive literally.

In neighboring Pasco County, where participation was much higher than in Sarasota, elections supervisor Kurt Browning printed actual screen shots, although the costs was twice as high as Sarasota's.

"The intent of the law was you give them a copy of what you see before you get into the booth," Browning said.
Editorial standards