TAMPA — Accompanied by two black aides, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson spoke Saturday at a NAACP meeting, touting his promotion of blacks in his office and the county's new optical scan voting machines.
When Tampa civic activist and three-time candidate Gerald White asked Johnson about declining black voter registration and whether people with disabilities will be able to use the new voting machines, he was cut off by Robin Lockett, who is the political action chairwoman for the local NAACP and one of two African-American liaisons in Johnson's office.
"This is strictly for the voting machine," she said loudly, talking over White. "He's here to demonstrate the voting machine. Nothing political."
She shook her head later when asked by a reporter about Johnson's October deposition for the NAACP, in which he gave halting responses about procedures in his office and said he felt like he was being quizzed.
Lockett said the elections office has been very sympathetic toward blacks, seeking to increase black voter registration.
"To be honest, I've been in contact with them for over a year, and they've been very helpful," she said.
After the meeting, Johnson said he was on the NAACP's side during the deposition, which was part of a suit that named Secretary of State Kurt Browning as defendant. It challenged a provision of state law that prohibits the registration of voters who gave personal identifying information that couldn't be matched precisely with existing driver's license or Social Security records.
He said he didn't answer questions when he didn't know the answers.
"Some numbers, I just didn't know," he said.
But White said Johnson's responses — and the three weeks it took to for him to answer the NAACP's subpoena — were a "slap in the face to African-Americans."
During his presentation, Johnson briefly explained how to use the optical voting machine, which will available at every precinct in the November elections, he said.
Carolyn Collins, a vice president for the local NAACP, said she was concerned about the reliability of the machines, but Johnson said there has to be some trust.
Before Johnson took the microphone, county administrator Pat Bean addressed concerns about county budget reductions and the proposed change to a mayor system in the county.
She said she's concerned that having a county mayor would result in decreased representation because voters would have to vie for time with one person who represents everyone, instead of approaching their district representative.
"If that passes in November, the average person out there in this county would lose services," she said.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443.