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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Fears about felons voting in Florida



Secretary of State Kurt Browning on Tuesday sought to dispel fears of election problems in a lengthy talk to Gov. Charlie Crist and Cabinet members. "We are not taking anything for granted. Florida is ready," Browning said. He issued firm assurances that everyone who registered to vote by last week's deadline and whose identities can be verified will be able to vote without having to cast provisional ballots.

But two Republicans, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson, raised concerns about "voter fraud" by groups such as ACORN, and they seemed unconvinced by Browning's insistence that Florida has "not seen the widespread fraud that Ohio has seen."

"People think it's more widespread," McCollum told Browning, who replied that such perceptions underscore the need for the voter verification or "no match" law that has been vilified by some advocacy groups as too restrictive.

Prompted by McCollum, Browning addressed a Sunday report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that up to 30,000 people with felony convictions are registered even though their civil rights have not been restored.

Browning said his office is conducting its own investigation and has identified 108,000 people whose names made a "hit" against a statewide criminal database. The checking continues, but Browning replied "No" when he was asked if all 108,000 names can be checked before Nov. 4. He reminded state officials of their own emphasis on making it easier for ex-felons to get their rights restored.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat, voiced fears of "yet another fiasco" in Florida -- the exact perception Browning has spent nearly two years trying to erase. Sink pointedly criticized Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark for having only three early voting sites in a county with a high proportion of elderly voters. "We're just really afraid that there will be enormously long lines," Sink said.

Browning defended Clark, saying she has put a high emphasis on absentee voting and has 14 secure ballot drop-off sites throughout Pinellas. Florida is anticipating a turnout of 80 to 85 percent or nearly 9-million voters -- twice the number that voted in the last statewide election in 2006.

Browning decried the pattern by both major presidential campaigns to flood Florida with thousands of lawyers who will work to make sure no voters are impeded from voting and to monitor the opposition for irregularities. That practice of "flying in, busing in, trucking in attorneys," Browning said, will become a self-fulfilling prophecy of "problems" at the polls.

--Steve Bousquet, Times staff writer


[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 8:55am]


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