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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Hundreds of voters given only half the ballot



TAMPA -- Hundreds of early-morning voters at several Hillsborough County precincts were not given the second page of the ballot and had no opportunity to vote on some state constitutional amendments and the county mayor veto issue, voters and elections workers said Tuesday.

At Precinct 965 at Progress Village Civic Center, about an hour passed after voting began before some voters realized that the second page was missing. By then, nearly 300 people had cast ballots, precinct clerk Delores Copeland said.

At Precinct 205 at the West Tampa Convention Center, poll watchers offered estimates of voters who received only one-page ballots that clashed with elections officials. At least 300 voters cast just one ballot each instead of the two required between 7 a.m. and 8:41 a.m., said John Ovink, an attorney for the Democratic Party and poll watcher there. He said voters didn't even know there was a second page to the ballot until Democratic poll watchers urged a clerk to look for them, which Ovink said the woman found in a box. He said the clerk told him 663 partial ballots had been counted by 10 a.m.

However, Mia McCormick, spokeswoman for Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson said that information was incorrect, and that fewer than 50 voters in that precinct had received only one page of a ballot. The office was not able to give exact numbers countywide for those who were only given one page.

Former Tampa City Councilman Bob Buckhorn, serving as a political analyst for Bay News 9, says he encountered the same problem at the West Tampa Convention Center, a busy polling site with two precincts.

Buckhorn was at the Convention Center around 9:30 a.m. when he said a woman told him of receiving just the first page of the ballot. She knew better and voiced concerns with poll workers and received a new ballot with two pages.

But the woman told Buckhorn she believes those who cast ballots before her didn't get a second page. .

At Precinct 327, at the Epiphany Church on Hanna Street, 26 voters cast their ballots and left before Johnnie Highsmith noticed he had received no second page of the ballot.

"I said, 'I'm missing something,' and I asked a worker about it, and they stopped everything, closed a door and huddled in a meeting,'' said Highsmith, 62. He said 26 persons voted before him and left.

"I said, 'This is unreal, how are you going to resolve this?'" Highsmith said.

At Precinct 305 in Ybor City, Mark Mischan, 58, noticed at about 7:40 a.m. that the ballot he was given -- one page -- did not match the sample ballot of two pages he carried to the polls. He alerted workers, and as at other Hillsborough precincts, everything came to momentarily a halt. Mischan said he was told 111 voters had cast vballots before the ballot discrepancy was discovered.

"I was horrified because of all the pollworkers who had supposedly been given a lot of training to prepare for this day,'' Mischan said. "It seemed to me like they just tried to gloss it over, saying the amendments aren't that important. But I think people were cheated out of their right to vote on these issues."

Copeland, the Progress Village poll worker, called it an oversight on the part of poll workers. By early this afternoon, no one had returned to the precinct to cast a provisional ballot, Copeland said.

At Precinct 534, at the Lutheran School and Church on Mapledale Drive in Northdale, "dozens" of voters cast only partial ballots, according to a voter who witnessed them. Dave Coleman, 54, was one of the first voters in line and noticed that his ballot ended short after the item on Amendment 3. He and other voters asked poll workers about the missing page and were initially told, "No, that's the way it is."

But after a group of voters insisted, a poll worker investigated. He tried to call a supervisor, but had trouble with the phone. Then another worker found the missing pages in a box, Coleman said. Although his group of about 20 waited, no one stopped other voters from casting their partial ballots.

"They never stopped the stream of voters," Coleman said. "It wasn't a malicious thing. What was wrong is they didn't stop it when it happened. They were moving them in and moving them out."

Coleman said poll workers immediately handed out the found ballot pages to any voters who needed one. He checked with his neighbors later in the day and they assured him they had received all their pages.

The missing page contained amendments 6 and 8, which address the assessed value of certain waterfront properties and supplemental funding for community colleges respectively as well as a Hillsborough County question about renewing funding for a program that acquires environmentally sensitive properties.

Jan Smith, a former Hillsborough County Planning Commission chairwoman, said the failure to give voters a full ballot is an "unforgiveable situation."

"It's astounding," Smith said. "We've been preparing for this election for about two years, and to not have the second page of a ballot is inexcusable."

Smith is leading a campaign to win passage of a referendum to renew the tax for Hillsborough County's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program. And hearing that hundreds of voters didn't get a second page to their ballots is distressing because the ELAPP referendum is the last question on the ballot.

Late this afternoon, Smith said she was feeling good about the referendum's prospects, and she hoped that the incomplete ballots would not play a role in the outcome.

"I'm hoping we win with such a majority that there is no question," she said.

"That is totally inexcusable on the part of the supervisor of elections and his staff," said former county commissioner and canvassing board member Jan Platt, who is co-chairing the ELAPP campaign. "I don't know how it's going to be rectified, but it needs to be rectified. I think it's a legal quagmire. How do we do know the other page wasn't given to some people?"

Historically, past ELAPP referendum questions have passed by margins of more than 70 percent. But if the question loses in a close vote, "I think we get us a good lawyer and see what can be done to rectify the situation," Platt said.

Earlier today, county elections supervisor Buddy Johnson said an unknown number of voters were only given half of their ballots at at least four precincts this morning.

Johnson said his office has gotten calls from voters complaining that poll workers gave them only one of two ballot pages. He wasn't sure which specific precincts had problems.

A poll clerk at precinct 422, the New Life Church on Waters Avenue, confirmed that about 10 voters early this morning only received one page of their ballots. A voter contacted the Times to say a similar problem occurred at New Mount Zion Baptist Church on Columbus Drive.

"Apparently a couple of clerks slept through their training," Johnson said at the elections office on Falkenberg Road. "Everything else is running smooth as silk."

Initially, Johnson said he didn't think there would be a way for those voters to cast the rest of his ballots, but after meeting with his staff, Johnson said anyone who only cast one page of his or her ballot could return to their precinct and fill out a provisional ballot for the rest.

Johnson said a few poll workers have been replaced.

Kim Wilmath, Justin George, Marlene Sokol, Saundra Amrhein, Bill Varian, Janet Zink and Richard Danielson, Times staff writers

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:39am]


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