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Internet buzz on vote fraud is dismissed

Page 3 of 3 -- As a percentage of the total, the number of ballots recording no vote for president was actually lower than it's been in recent elections in the state, Corrigan noted. Democrats are making sure provisional ballots are counted, but almost all of those votes would have to be for Kerry to swing the election, and many are expected to be ruled invalid.

In Florida, the Democratic-leaning counties that went for Bush are in the culturally conservative Panhandle, where the president beat Gore in 2000 and where he made particularly intense appeals this year. The software error that started subtracting votes rather than adding them affected only a few ballot measures, and was caught and corrected.

Richard Hasen, an election law specialist at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, noted that with the election overseen by 13,000 different local jurisdictions -- many of which were employing new technologies on Election Day -- scattered problems were inevitable.

''I would be surprised if there wouldn't be glitches like this," Hasen said.

As for the exit polls, they remain subject to sampling errors and limitations in data gathering. The polls sponsored by a consortium of media companies had margins of error of roughly 3 percent, and in closely contested states shown to be leaning toward Kerry, narrow Bush wins were actually within the expected range. Florida's margin was larger than expected, but poll takers reported problems getting close enough to voting places to collect adequate samples, and said they feared they were not getting Bush voters to be as forthcoming with their choice as Kerry voters.

Heather Gerken, a professor at Harvard Law School, said the fact that this year's election went smoothly compared to 2000 shouldn't blind policy makers to problems still inherent in the system. Many jurisdictions continue to use outdated equipment, states are behind in compiling reliable voter lists, and elections are still run by partisan officials, she said.

''I have not yet seen anything that convinces me that the election was stolen, but I certainly think that we should treat these allegations seriously and do them justice," she said. ''There's clearly problems with the elections system. It's crucial to the health of this country that we have an election system that we can trust."

Globe correspondent Alan Wirzbicki contributed to this report. Rick Klein can be reached at rklein@globe.com. 

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