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February 20, 2013

Snag prolongs vote counting in Miami-Dade teachers union elections

Votes cast in Tuesday’s United Teachers of Dade leadership election were still being counted late into Wednesday night due to “technological difficulties.”

A technology breakdown threatened to derail the United Teachers of Dade leadership elections Wednesday by sending vote-counting into a second straight night, and leading three presidential candidates to try and halt the process in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

Results of the election, which took place on Scantron ballots Tuesday in schools around the county, were expected in by early the next morning. But scanners and software used to read the four-page ballots and tally votes quickly malfunctioned and slowed vote-counting to a crawl.

By Wednesday evening, only about 3,300 ballots had been counted at the South Florida AFL-CIO hall in Miami Springs. Results weren’t expected until early Thursday.

“We will not rush the count just to get it done,” said a statement posted on the union’s website.

The delay left the outcome of about two dozen races, including three six-figure top leadership positions, in limbo. It also caused three of five candidates for president to file an emergency injunction to force the union to halt vote-counting under private vendor VoteNet and resume only after the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections was brought int.

That attempt failed, said their attorney, former state Rep. Juan-Carlos “J.C.” Planas.

Planas, representing candidates James Bush III, Artie Leichner and Ceresta Smith, said Judge Marc Shumacher did order that all election materials be preserved.

“What’s very troubling to me and my clients is we, in essence, offered to drop all this if they’d just allow observance and complete inspection of the ballot,” he said. “They’re circling the wagons on their secrecy.”

Attempts to reach attorneys for the union through a spokeswoman were unsuccessful.

The problems counting ballots were “frustrating” to union representatives, who switched to paper ballots after several online votes were contested in the past few years. One of those: the last leadership elections in 2010, which remain the subject of an ongoing lawsuit that alleges ballot-stuffing and seeks to produce individual voting results.

By Wednesday morning, the hours of vote tallying left candidates who stayed to watch the process weary. Dunkin Donuts coffee and breakfast sandwiches were scattered on a counter top and a handful of vote counters tapped on laptops next to stacks of manila envelopes.

Geno Perez, the plaintiff in the 2010 election lawsuit, called the atmosphere “terrible” as he walked back to his car, shirt untucked.

Presidential candidate Fedrick Ingram, however, said he’d stay as long as he had to.

“Better to get it right than fast,” he said.

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