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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pinellas County poll workers wrongly turned away eligible voters, watchdog group says



 ST. PETERSBURG --  More voter confusion, or not depending on who is talking.

  A voting rights group with the AFL-CIO alleged Monday that Pinellas County poll workers turned away residents who had proper identification on Saturday.

About 30 people trying to cast a ballot at 501 1 st Ave. N in downtown St. Petersburg were refused by poll workers who misunderstood the state requirement for identification, said Alma Gonzalez, director of voter protection for the Florida AFL-CIO. Some voters were refused to cast a ballot, others were told they could vote by provisional ballot, which has a higher rejection rate.

  Poll workers insisted that the residents have a single form of identification that included a photograph and a signature, such as a driver’s license, Gonzalez said. State law requires only that voters present a photo and a signature, which could be on separate forms of identification – such as a student id with photo and a Social Security card with a signature.

Gonzalez her group of poll watchers contacted the office of Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark on Saturday to resolve the situation. Later that day, Clark acknowledged the error, Gonzalez said.

But Clark did not ease the confusion by issuing a statement to the public about the error, Gonzalez said. Such a statement could have alerted other residents who might have been turned away earlier in the week. If poll workers were turning away voters on Saturday, they probably turned away hundreds of others or instructed them to vote by provisional ballot, Gonzalez said.

Clark ’s office Monday denied the allegation, saying no voters were turned away.

"The allegation that voters were not allowed to vote is completely baseless,” Clark said in a statement Monday afternoon. “As required by state law and consistent with procedures that all elections employees and poll workers are trained, voters who presented photos and signature identification were given regular ballots, and voters who did not present photo and signature identification were told they could vote a provisional ballot.”

But did poll workers tell these voters they had to cast a less than reliable provisional ballot?

Jewel White, managing assistant county attorney for Pinellas who represents Clark’s office, said Clark “stands by the press release.”

Gonzalez said this wasn’t true.

“Some people were turned away at the polls,” she said. “The facts as we know them don’t substantiate her denial.”

[Last modified: Monday, November 5, 2012 7:24pm]


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