More voters questioning ballot security in Hillsborough County

The elections chief in Hillsborough blames "rigged" claims but stands by safeguards.
“We don't have felons voting, we don't have dead people voting, and we don't have zombie voters that are able to register somehow that are bringing some official ID to a polling site.”
Craig Latimer, Hillsborough County elections supervisor
“We don't have felons voting, we don't have dead people voting, and we don't have zombie voters that are able to register somehow that are bringing some official ID to a polling site.” Craig Latimer, Hillsborough County elections supervisor
Published October 28 2016
Updated October 29 2016

TAMPA — One Hillsborough County voter wouldn't leave and demanded a receipt showing his vote was accurately recorded.

Another cited an Internet story as proof that the pen he was given to mark his ballot wouldn't register in the voting machine.

In the wake of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's remarks about a "rigged" election, the first week of early voting has prompted more people to question the security of their ballot, said Hillsborough County Elections Supervisor Craig Latimer.

The claims by Trump and others that the election system is flawed have contributed to that, he said.

"If you keep putting out that something is going to be rigged, people are going to start questioning it," Latimer said. "It's extremely unfair to the electorate to create that fear in the people."

The concern was enough for Latimer last week to print a flier titled "Let's talk about safe and secure elections" for staff and volunteers to give out at voting sites. It includes a list of 10 safeguards his office employs to ensure that only eligible voters cast a ballot and that they only get to do it once.

The flier details how his office runs premarked ballots through voting machines to make sure counts are accurate.

It also explains how elections officials scrub the voter registration database each night to remove felons and deceased voters. That is done by cross-referencing their data against the Florida Department of Health's deceased persons file and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"We don't have felons voting, we don't have dead people voting, and we don't have zombie voters that are able to register somehow that are bringing some official ID to a polling site," Latimer said.

Despite Trump's claims, polls show there is generally a lot of confidence in the voting process, said Michael McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida.

A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 37 percent of respondents believe voter fraud occurs somewhat or very often.

"If anything, this has been a good teaching moment that there are a lot of good safeguards in place, and they can be confident their vote will be recorded accurately," McDonald said.

Still, there are some cases of apparent voter fraud in Florida. Two women were arrested Friday in Miami-Dade County.

One was spotted by co-workers marking ballots, which would have resulted in a small number of fraudulent votes for a mayoral candidate, according to the Miami Herald.

The other woman filled out voter registration forms for United for Care, the campaign supporting legalized medical marijuana in Florida. Authorities said she submitted 15 forms for people who don't exist and several for dead people.

There was some skepticism in Tampa among those casting ballots at the Robert L. Gilder Elections Service Center on Falkenburg Road on Friday.

Rich Navarro, a Hillsborough County employee, pointed to a study by the Public Interest Legal Foundation that found some immigrants who are in the country illegally had voted in Virginia. The nonprofit group works to ensure election integrity.

"It only takes one of them to cancel out my vote," said Navarro, who described his choice of Trump for president as a vote against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

But Fletcher Jones, a Clinton supporter who voted five minutes earlier, dismissed such concerns as "hogwash."

"I have a lot of confidence in the system," he said.

More than 200,000 people have cast ballots in Hillsborough, most arriving by mail.

On Friday, the county's canvassing board met to review rejected ballots, another safeguard of the voting system.

The board, comprised of Latimer and Hillsborough Judges Margaret Taylor and Lawrence Lefler, reviewed the markings on the ballots to determine as best they could the voters' intentions.

Some voters don't make that easy. One ballot included notorious 1960s cult leader Charles Manson as a write-in candidate for president.

In most cases, ballots were rejected because voters marked more than one candidate in a race or marked outside the circle that they should have filled in.

Watching closely was Margie Mittleman, an attorney hired by the Republican Party to observe the process.

"We are definitely appreciative of the jobs these folks do," she said.

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

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