TAMPA — Hillsborough County elections officials were dealing on Tuesday with reports of telephone problems, a brief power outage, poll workers giving out bad information and a complaint of what at first looked like voter suppression.
This morning, phones were down at several precincts, making it difficult for poll workers to confirm and verify voter information. If information can't be verified, voters have to cast provisional ballots, which have a higher rejection rate than regular ballots.
This afternoon, power went out for less than an hour in half the building at the Robert L. Gilder Elections Service Center on N Falkenburg Road. The outage was caused by a faulty cable and affected about 600 Tampa Electric customers in the area, said utility spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs.
As a result, voting at the center was suspended temporarily because there wasn't power to print out ballots, Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections spokesman Travis Abercrombie said. But the power was back on and voting resumed by 4:40 p.m.
During an afternoon news conference, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization, said the outage made it difficult for poll workers to verify voter information.
In the morning, several precincts didn't have phones for a while, but Abercrombie said they were operating again at 1 p.m. He said he didn't know how long they had been out or what caused the outage.
The Lawyers' Committee said poll workers were giving an unspecified number of voters incorrect information on where to vote, so that when they arrived at a precinct, many had to vote provisionally. The group said voters were misdirected at University Area Community Center, at 14013 N 22nd Street and the Lake Forest Homeowners Association Clubhouse at 14735 Lake Forest Drive were named by the group.
In a news release, the elections office reminded voters to vote in their precincts on election day or to go to any of the four offices of the Supervisor of Elections and obtain an "in-person" absentee ballot.
In addition, at least five voters in a Seminole Heights precinct were removed from the rolls without their knowledge, said David K. Johnson, 51, an associate professor of history at the University of South Florida.
An expert on American post-World War II history, Johnson was going to be on a panel tonight at USF for a BBC election watch party to discuss voter suppression, but he didn't know until he went to vote this morning that he would be able to talk about phenomenon personally.
"I was just the victim of suppression," he said early Tuesday.
He went to his N Florida Avenue precinct, where he's voted the past six years. It was there that a poll worker told him he wasn't on the rolls. He spoke with a second poll worker who was able to track down a David Johnson with the same birth date and voter ID number who had registered under an Orlando address that he had never heard of until then. He was told the change had been made on Oct. 23 — well past the deadline to update addresses.
"It's very suspicious," Johnson said.
In September, the Republican Party of Florida fired its vendor after it was learned they were falsifying registration forms. The company, Strategic Allied Consulting, had allegations that it had ripped up Democratic voter registration forms in previous elections, but they were all unproven. If someone is registered by someone else at a different address and it's not caught before Election Day, that person has to vote by provisional ballot.
Johnson, a Democrat, said that's the way he had to vote.
About 3 p.m., Johnson said he received a call from Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard. Lennard assured him that his provisional ballot would be counted and said the mix-up resulted from what amounted to clerical error when a David Johnson with the same date of birth went into the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office to register to vote.
A staffer in Orange County apparently saw Professor Johnson's registration in Hillsborough, assumed that the new voter there was the same man — even though the two men had different home addresses, different party registrations and different middle names — and transferred Johnson's registration to Orange County.
"It's not a very good explanation," Johnson said. "It's sloppy at best."
But he said Lennard was sympathetic.
"He said he would object, too, because somebody in Orange County had basically stolen one of this voters," he said.
While Johnson first suspected voter suppression, after hearing from Lennard he said he wasn't sure what to think.
For one thing, Johnson said four other voters were talking to poll workers about similar registration issues. Johnson said they couldn't find one man on the rolls at all.
"It's hard to say at this point," he said late Tuesday afternoon. "I do have a common name, but it doesn't seem to me I was the only one that had a problem. I suspect other people did not complain quite as loudly as I did and didn't get the results that I did."