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Alleged violation of law leads to spat in Hernando supervisor of elections race

BROOKSVILLE — A primary election day gaffe has sparked controversy and ruffled a few feathers between the two candidates who are vying to replace retiring Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams.

According to Williams, she notified Republican candidate Shirley Anderson on Aug. 21 of her violation of a state election statute after learning from poll workers that Anderson had entered a Spring Hill polling place during the Aug. 14 primary and asked a poll worker how many voters had cast ballots that day.

According to Williams, Anderson's visit was in violation of a provision that prohibits anyone from entering a polling room or polling place except to vote or to assist someone in their care in the voting process.

Williams said records showed that Anderson had voted earlier in the month.

One of three candidates vying for the Republican nomination, Anderson won the primary handily and will face Democrat Elizabeth Townsend in the Nov. 6 general election.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Anderson admitted she visited Precinct 40 at Spring Hill United Church Of Christ on Mariner Boulevard, and was invited inside the building by a polling deputy to ask a question. Anderson said she wasn't aware that doing so was against state law.

"Had the polling deputy been trained better, maybe it wouldn't have happened," Anderson said.

According to Williams, a Democrat, the poll worker in question was fully trained and was provided with a manual explaining who was allowed inside the polling location during voting hours. He has since been fired for the infraction, she said.

Then, in a letter Wednesday, Anderson accused Townsend, who works as operations director for the elections office, of violating state election codes. Anderson said she observed Townsend's campaign-bannered vehicle parked within 100 feet of the county's Forest Oaks elections office on a day when early voting was taking place.

Doing so, Anderson said, violated a provision that prohibits public employees and officers from participating in political campaigning for an elected office while on duty.

Photos accompanying Anderson's letter showed Townsend's vehicle parked near the front entrance of the Forest Oaks elections office. In one photo, the vehicle is parked in a space that is specifically reserved for the elections office supervisor.

Anderson said the photos were taken Aug. 4. Townsend said she had no comment on the matter. But on Thursday, Williams responded to Anderson's complaint, saying that she didn't believe that Townsend violated any law.

"As an employee of the Supervisor of Elections office, Ms. Townsend was performing her job responsibilities on August 4, 2012," Williams wrote. "She was not a candidate on any of the primary election ballots and there was no intent to solicit votes."

Williams added that having a campaign sign on the back window of a personal vehicle that is driven to and from work is not considered "participating in a political campaign for an elected office while on duty."

Williams concluded in her response to Anderson that the purpose of her original letter was simply to inform her of her violation of election laws so she would not continue to do the same in the future.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@tampabay.com.

Alleged violation of law leads to spat in Hernando supervisor of elections race 08/30/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 30, 2012 5:37pm]
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