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Florida... again 58,000 absentee ballots have not reached the voters who requested them

 
Makani Kea
10/28/2004 12:00 PM
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Florida... again 58,000 absentee ballots have not reached the voters who requested them
As far as I have seen... the fix is already in for this election for Bush. This is just one example of many throughout the nation... of how votes are being disenfranchised. mk

[link to www.sun-sentinel.com]
Broward to resend thousands of missing absentee ballots

By Scott Wyman & Jean-Paul Renaud
Staff writers
Posted October 28 2004

Hoping to avoid another presidential election fiasco, Broward County officials scrambled Wednesday to replace tens of thousands of missing absentee ballots, cut long waits for early voting and beef up a phone system deluged with calls from angry voters.

A day after acknowledging that up to 58,000 absentee ballots have not reached the voters who requested them, Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes decided to mail new ones. She will pay extra for overnight delivery of those sent outside Broward in hopes of ensuring voters can return them before Tuesday´s deadline.

County commissioners also assigned 40 employees to help answer phone calls at Snipes´ office and process people in line at early voting sites. More workers could soon follow as Snipes contemplates extending early voting hours and upgrades her phone system to add more lines.

Some of the problems have plagued other Broward elections over the past four years. Long lines of frustrated voters were common in the 2000 and 2002 elections, while 268 absentee ballots were misplaced during the September 2002 primary.

A calm and collected Snipes defended her election preparations. She said voters should have confidence in the Nov. 2 balloting.

"There´s been a whole lot of partisanship about the election, so everything that happens is magnified," she said. "But when we see something functioning like it shouldn´t, we fix it immediately."

Not everyone agrees. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference called late Wednesday for Gov. Jeb Bush to suspend Snipes, a retired educator whom he appointed last year to replace Miriam Oliphant. The civil rights group charged that Snipes is making the same missteps that Bush cited in suspending Oliphant.

"I alerted them to these problems, only to be attacked for political reasons," said Oliphant, who lost the Democratic primary in August to Snipes. "I warned them about the poll workers, I warned them about the phones, and I warned them about the absentee ballots."

The breadth of the problems is putting Broward County again in the national spotlight it held during the 36-day recount in 2000.

State officials said the only complaints they´ve received about early voting have come from Broward and Palm Beach counties. A national hotline set up by a coalition of civil rights groups reports twice as many complaints about Broward than any other community.

Snipes said she first became aware absentee ballots were missing a week ago and has been working since to figure out what went wrong and fix it. Her staff thinks many of those missing were in the first batch of ballots mailed after the office began processing requests on Oct. 7.

Although there are about 58,000 ballots not accounted for, Snipes said many are actually in the hands of voters waiting to be mailed back and thus the problem will turn out to be much smaller.

She said that about 14,000 completed ballots arrived Wednesday and that others had been deposited in the office´s drop-off box and at early voting locations. She estimated that she will resend no more than 20,000 ballots.

She pointed the finger at the U.S. Postal Service as the source of the mix-up. She said that all ballots are postmarked the day voters request them and that they are then are couriered to the post office´s main facility in Fort Lauderdale for delivery.

But the Postal Service says it is not to blame. The agency said in a statement that special employees are assigned to handle all ballots and that those sent locally should arrive in one day.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched an investigation into the missing ballots Wednesday but concluded there was no criminal wrongdoing. Postal inspectors also investigated and determined there had been no delays in the agency´s handling of ballots.

Volunteers began helping Snipes´ office package the ballots Wednesday evening. All should be mailed out by Friday morning at the latest but must be returned by the end of business Tuesday.

Officials argue that there is no conspiracy to prevent voting but said the number of people seeking to vote is overwhelming Broward´s election machinery. Turnout is expected to top 70 percent, with almost 90,000 people already casting ballots at early voting sites and 127,000 requesting absentee ballots by mail.

Those waiting for ballots are expressing deep dissatisfaction with the handling of the election.

Linda Lemle-Goldberg said she requested a ballot in early October for her mother, who is homebound with Parkinson´s disease in Pompano Beach, but has never received it. She said officials told her more than two weeks ago that it had been mailed and then promised to send another one, but it also has not arrived.

"I´m angry and frustrated and feel like crying," said Lemle-Goldberg, who said she will drive to Fort Lauderdale today to pick up her mother´s ballot.

Murray Hirsh of the Century Village condo community in Pembroke Pines said he finally received in Wednesday´s mail the absentee ballot he requested on Oct. 7. It was postmarked Oct. 19, meaning it took Snipes´ office 12 days to process his request and the post office eight days to deliver it.

"Someone is trying to sabotage this election," Hirsh said.

Snipes said she will ask county officials for extra money to pay for the new mailing, but did not know how much the added expense will be. County Mayor Ilene Lieberman and other county commissioners said they are willing to give her additional money or staff to ensure the election is successful.

The county initially gave Snipes $2.9 million to cover the election´s cost and bought her $3.2 million in new voting equipment as part of this year´s budget. Commissioners also agreed to loan her 800 employees to help at the polls on Election Day.

"I´m tired of Broward being the laughingstock of the nation, and I want to get it right," said Commissioner Suzanne Gunzburger, who served on the vote canvassing board during the 2000 election dispute. "All voters need to be assured they can vote and that their vote will be counted. These people who applied for an absentee ballot want to vote."

Both the Republican and Democratic parties expressed concern, but the Democrats may have the most to lose because Broward is such a major base for the party.

Charles Lichtman, lead Florida attorney for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, met with Snipes and Lieberman on Wednesday afternoon and asked them to defer finding out what went wrong and concentrate on getting ballots to voters. County Commissioner Diana Wasserman-Rubin, a major player in Kerry´s campaign, on the other hand, sought to downplay the missing ballots, fearful it could prompt some not to vote.

Absentee ballots traditionally are used heavily by Republicans, but Democrats mounted a major effort this year to get their supporters to vote early. To win the state, Kerry will need a heavy turnout in Broward to offset conservative areas in Northern and Central Florida.

"It´s disturbing that we have the greatest voter interest in my lifetime, and people aren´t getting their ballot," said Mitch Ceasar, chairman of the Broward County Democratic Party.

Staff writers Linda Kleindienst, Rafael Olmeda, Brittany Wallman and Buddy Nevins contributed to this report.

Scott Wyman can be reached at [email protected] or 954-356-4511.
Anonymous Coward
12/08/2005 10:19 AM
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Re: Florida... again 58,000 absentee ballots have not reached the voters who requested them
Those New Yorkers need to vote where they live. Not gonna get to vote twice this year...
Nerak
12/08/2005 10:19 AM
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Re: Florida... again 58,000 absentee ballots have not reached the voters who requested them
This election is going to be totally FUBAR.
Anonymous Coward
12/08/2005 10:19 AM
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Re: Florida... again 58,000 absentee ballots have not reached the voters who requested them
I´ve been wondering for awhile how Americans can think they will get rid of Bush. Not going to happen :(
Anonymous Coward
12/08/2005 10:19 AM
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Re: Florida... again 58,000 absentee ballots have not reached the voters who requested them
70 percent of all electronic voting machines.... 70 PERCENT were found defective by the investigating teams. The fix is in.





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