Woodie McDuffie: I’ll use experience to turn elections system around

Delray Beach Mayor Nelson “Woodie” McDuffie feels it’s time to bring his 42 years of experience in the information technology field to bear on Palm Beach County’s troubled voting system.

McDuffie, who’ll be term-limited out of the mayor’s office in 2013, said he will challenge Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher for her job in the November election.

The thought of running “is kind of exciting,” said Delray’s chief executive.  He said he isn’t jumping into the race just because of recent snafus in the Wellington election that turned two winners into losers, two losers into winners and resulted in lawsuits that halted the community’s inaugural process.

“I have a consulting team that’s been looking for future political opportunities,” he said. “I’ve been looking at several, but this one is a pretty good match.”

Bucher, a former state legislator, is the third elections chief who failed to tame Palm Beach County’s 800-pound electoral gorilla. The trouble started in 2000, when Theresa LePore’s confusing “butterfly ballot” put the presidential election results on hold for 37 days until the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and declared George W. Bush the winner.

Arthur Anderson, the retired professor who ousted the trouble-laden LePore in the 2004 primary, couldn’t pull the system out of the mire and was replaced by Bucher in 2008.

“Several election mishaps have occurred in the last four years under Bucher,” McDuffie said, adding that when the Wellington ballot count “went south,” even the voting machine manufacturer’s mea culpa didn’t rectify the matter.

Although Bucher called the Wellington situation a computer “glitch,” McDuffie called it “human error.”

“Computers don’t program themselves,” he said. “They don’t run themselves. A computer is a dumb piece of steel. This was absolutely human error. ”

“For too long, Palm Beach County has had a blemished record of voting that has embarrassed residents and put us in a negative spotlight that hurts our county’s image, economy and integrity.”

But McDuffie emphasized the race is not “Woodie against Susan. It’s Woodie against the problems of the voting system – and to assure those running for office that the vote count is accurate.”

Actually, McDuffie said, he’s “got an idea” on how to put the skewed system back on track. He’s keeping the plan to himself, but said it involves making the county’s electoral juggernaut more sophisticated and easier for voters to understand.

Born and raised in Delray Beach, McDuffie earned a bachelor’s degree in management science from Florida Atlantic University in 1970. He immediately went to work for Burroughs Corp., where he spent 21 years in the sales and marketing of small to large-scale computers.

“These were the mainframe computers, the ones that filled an entire room,” he said.

The candidate was eventually named the Florida public-sector district manager for Burroughs, managing the automation for a number of municipalities, school districts, state colleges, the tax collector’s office, public safety and county agencies throughout the state. Today, he is the manager of information technologies for Palm Beach County Property Appraiser Gary Nikolits, a post McDuffie has held for 18 years.

McDuffie said he and his test committee work matters through over and over again to avoid problems.

“We write millions and millions of lines of code and conduct billions of calculations,” he said. “I told Gary ‘I will never embarrass you.’  And we have never had a hiccup.”

Explaining the extensive system of checks and balances at the appraiser’s office, McDuffie said, “We don’t send out errors. I don’t get a chance to say, ‘Oops.'”

A family man who enjoys public service, McDuffie was a Delray city commissioner for two years before becoming mayor. He’s also served on the city’s Planning and Zoning Board and the county Zoning Commission.

A volunteer for Little League baseball, McDuffie began as a player in 1955 and is a member of the International Association of Assessing Officers. He and his wife, Cindy, have two grown children, Colt and Danielle, and a grandson, Brayden.

McDuffie is also looking forward to a reunion with members of a rock band he performed with in the 1960s. “We haven’t played together in 46 years,” he said.

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