Susan Bucher is hoping for another four years of 80-hour work weeks, election days where anything can happen at Palm Beach County’s multitude of polling places, and the sometimes-grueling tasks of training and overseeing poll workers and poring over computer programs to keep a massive voting system in tune.
“My husband understands,” said Bucher, elected in 2008 as Palm Beach County’s supervisor of elections, a post that had become a thankless job during two prior administrations.
Bucher was familiar with those administrations, having been a vocal minority party member as a Democrat in the Florida House from 2000 to 2008. She served on the Ethics and Election Law Committee during her first year in office. That was the group impaneled after the disastrous presidential election of 2000, when the infamous “butterfly ballot” spurred a recount that delayed the final decision in the Al Gore-George W. Bush race for 37 days and made then-Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore a national pariah.
Seeking re-election in November, Bucher already has one opponent, Delray Beach Mayor Nelson “Woodie” McDuffie, and a recent major mishap to overcome – a snafu in last month’s Wellington election.
That controversy had two winning Wellington candidates later declared losers – and two losers becoming winners in a hand recount after a routine audit uncovered incorrect vote totals.
Bucher attributed the problem to a “synchronization” error caused when the central vote-counting software was lined up to accept races in a different order than they appeared on the Wellington ballot. As a result, election night totals were shifted in a circle.
“We had no notice or warning that it did not sync properly,” Bucher said. “While the votes were counted correctly, we were not able to see the synchronization page.”
She said the manual provided by the manufacturer, Dominion Voting Systems, offered no direction on how to reach the synchronization page.
“It is not a bug,” Bucher said. “The manual is deficient.”
As a result, Dominion issued a nationwide alert to all its customers, saying that whenever information is changed, the software must be checked to make sure the ballot and the central vote-counting software match. Bucher says her staff was never told of the potential for error.
But it wasn’t Bucher’s first electoral miscue. The ballot count in the 2010 gubernatorial race wasn’t finished until 4 a.m. the next day, a problem Bucher attributed to a lack of modems to send results to the supervisor’s office. She said the system is a mish-mash of digital and analog phone systems, something she hopes to straighten out this year.
McDuffie said he recalls that the 2009 Delray mayoral race results didn’t reach City Hall until after 11 p.m.
Hoping to avoid future problems, Bucher continues the task of ferreting out troubles before they get out of hand.
She said one of her proudest accomplishments is returning money each year to the Palm Beach County Commission, which funds her office and staff of 43 people.
In her first year in office, Bucher said, she inherited an “overspent” budget from her predecessor, Arthur Anderson. She reconfigured the main office, chucked a PR firm that Anderson had hired and came up with other money-saving methods that not only recovered the $1.3 million overage, but also returned an additional $855,558.
“The second year, we absorbed the expenses of three special elections and still returned just over $2.6 million,” Bucher said. “This past year, we got 100 percent of our funding from the state and returned $5.1 million from the budget.”
That’s a three-year return total of $9,929,476.
Bucher said she “has a great working relationship” with Assistant County Administrator Brad Merriman. She also praised the work of a staff headed by three managers with a combined 75 years of public service – Jeff Darter, Charmaine Kelly and Tony Enos.
She’s now planning for the August primaries and the general election – which includes the race for president – in November. Bucher has a long list of tasks still left to accomplish, including organizing the distribution of absentee ballots, which make up 20 percent of the vote totals.
The supervisor is also touting a new website that “is more user-friendly and easier to access.”
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