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Challenger sees long lines as reason to oust elections boss

Democrat Jack Killingsworth looks at the long lines at Pinellas County's three early voting sites and sees opportunity.

Killingsworth, a retired electrical engineer who is running for Pinellas supervisor of elections, says voters should not have to wait more than 15 minutes for early voting or on Election Day.

He spreads that message in the lines of Pinellas voters who had to wait an hour or more to vote early. "The ones I talked to were very appreciative of the fact that I have a goal," said Killingsworth, 74, who was an unsuccessful School Board candidate in 2006.

But away from the lines, it's hard to tell that there is a race for elections supervisor in Pinellas. There has been little advertising, few yard signs and only a smattering of mailings.

This is the first contested race for Republican Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark since the 2000 presidential election.

The timing would seem ripe for a Democratic challenger, given the national climate and Clark's often checkered tenure, including her office overlooking a box of absentee ballots in 2004.

Killingsworth admits he's had trouble getting his message out.

He and a few volunteers have distributed about 60,000 informational cards door to door; he also has appeared at various political events and taken out some TV ads.

"Getting the message out is very difficult when you're a novice," he said. "I don't have a press agent, I don't know how to do press releases. I just work my butt off."

Clark, 59, attributes the silence surrounding the race to her job. She said she is so focused on making sure everyone else's elections run smoothly that she hasn't spent much time on her own.

Both candidates have relatively small campaign finance chests: $32,220 for Clark and $29,183 for Killingsworth, as of Oct. 10.

Supervisors of elections, who make $128,726 a year, are responsible for ensuring people can register to vote and learn where to vote. They oversee vote counting and guard against fraud.

Both candidates tout experience.

"I'm the only candidate in this race with any election experience, period," said Clark, who has worked in the supervisor's office for 30 years and has been the supervisor since 2000.

She noted that there are 20 city elections nine weeks after the winner takes office in January. She doubts Killingsworth could get up to speed that quickly.

While Killingsworth hasn't run elections before, he said his background in business, engineering and working in missile systems at Cape Canaveral is experience enough.

"She has experience," he said, "but we have experience with her and our experience has been errors, errors, errors."

He cited several cases from 2000 to 2006 where mistakes ranged from missing ballots to uncounted ballots to incorrect absentee ballots.

Clark said she has worked hard to invest in technology, improve her staff and troubleshoot past problems. Clark called the uncounted box of absentee ballots in 2004 the "absolute low point in my career."

She said her office instituted new procedures, including a system that allows voters to track their absentee ballot online.

Challenger sees long lines as reason to oust elections boss 10/31/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 2, 2008 3:05pm]
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