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1 Fla. County Still Counts By Hand

November 13, 2000

LAKE BUTLER, Fla. (AP) _ People usually laugh at Union County: the county with the state’s toughest prison, the county that can’t always pay its teachers, the last in the state to still count paper election ballots by hand.

Now Union County is having the last laugh _ on that last score, any way.

``We’re feeling real good about that right now, we sure are,″ said County Commissioner Ricky Jenkins. ``Yeah, we’re tickled to death that we were on the paper ballot.″

While elections officials in West Palm Beach were busy inspecting all 461,000 ballots by hand on Sunday, Union County Elections Supervisor Babs Montpetit and two of her staff were celebrating in Louisiana, said her husband, Jack Montpetit.

It took the Union crew until about 3 a.m. Wednesday to count all 3,900 ballots the first time. A recount was requested, and that took until mid-afternoon. The difference was about a half-dozen votes.

With just 13,513 residents, Union is the state’s smallest county. It has one elementary school, its big industries are prisons and timber, and officials sometimes have trouble making ends meet. In summer 1999, the school board told teachers not to cash their checks because the county was broke. That’s why they’re still using the paper ballot.

``Our total county budget’s not but $8 million,″ said Wayne Smith, chairman of the county commission and head of the election canvassing board. ``When you meet all your other obligations, it’s hard to find enough money for these voting machines.″

That doesn’t mean they won’t be coming some day, though, Jenkins said. ``We’ve got to move along and get with the rest of the county.″

School board member Alvin Griffis said his constituents normally groan and moan that other counties get their results hours before Union does.

``Now I don’t hear anyone complaining because ours were counted by hand,″ he said.

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