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Is Arthur Anderson Accountable?

Remember those "glitches" from Election Night that had Al Zucaro thinking he'd beaten Lois Frankel to become the next mayor of West Palm Beach? Well, George Bennett reports in the Palm Beach Post today that it was the fault of an Internet company hired by the elections office to display the results on-line. Here's the explanation: ------------------------ In an effort to give the Web site a "more crisp" appearance, a column for vote totals was inadvertently made too narrow to handle four-digit numbers and cut off the crucial digit in the thousands place, said Marc Fratello, chief executive officer of SOE Software Corp.

"It was a human error, not a software error," Fratello said. --------------------------------

Someday a stupid mistake on a computer program like that is going to cause some kind of massive societal breakdown, but we won't dwell on that on that dark certainty this morning, not with the NCAA tournament about to start up anyway. Instead we'll hover around the fact that SOE (which I believe stands for "Supervisor of Elections") was paid $241,000 to develop the

website and $40,000 more each year to maintain it. That's a lot of money for a web site, especially one that botches the one night of the year that really counts. But elections supervisor Arthur Anderson stands by his company, telling Bennett, "We'll certainly want to review our situation but we won't be hasty to terminate the contract. ... They are still the premier company."

Now let's look at the site. Spend a little time with it before reading the next line.

It's crap.

For that money, I'm expecting a a lot of bells and whistles. Something that isn't a dull, lifeless, information-starved pile. Something that doesn't look like it could have been done for ten grand. It doesn't even offer campaign finance reports, which the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office site at least provides. (Or if the Palm Beach version has this ability, I couldn't find it). Why don't Palm Beachers get this crucial feature, which shows them who is trying to buy their elections? Is the omission for financial or political reasons? Is Anderson to blame for failing to get this information to the public?

Now guess who administers that site? SOE Software, which apparently has quite a lot of pull in these parts. My bet is that both counties are overpaying SOE for services that a hungry firm could do better for half the price. What is for sure is that the voters in Palm Beach have been short-changed by someone, either the software firm or their own elections office.

ADDED: Also worth reading, the Sun-Sentinel version of this story by Stephanie Horvath and Sally Apgar. It's actually more depthy than the Post article and includes this hilarious anecdote about Anderson from election night:

"Tuesday night, though, as the Web site was reporting that the total number of votes cast in mayoral races across the county were vastly fewer than in less contentious city council races, Anderson adamantly stood by the figures. 'People aren't voting for mayor,' he explained. 'Maybe they don't like either one of them.'"

That's embarrassing.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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