Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Politics

City worker improperly blocked at polls twice, lawyer says

ST. PETERSBURG — Angela Owens had stopped into Kissin' Cuzzins' for banana pancakes Tuesday morning when she heard about the man they wouldn't let vote.

Owens, a 44-year-old Tampa attorney, had spent all morning at the polls helping people: a new citizen voting in his first election, a Spanish-speaking woman who needed a translator.

She calls herself a voter protection lawyer. Her Facebook group is "Stop Voter Suppression Now." She volunteered to help anyone who had issues casting a ballot.

At 11:30 a.m., Owens was meeting the Rev. Manuel L. Sykes, the president of the local NAACP chapter, to see what other cases she could address, when a young woman got up from her booth to greet them. Sykes asked whether she had voted. The young woman told them about her boyfriend.

"We went downtown to early vote on Saturday," Kenyata Golden explained. "And they told him his address didn't match the one on their rolls, or something. Then they brought up a probation violation from 1999."

Her boyfriend thought that was behind him. He had voted in 2008. "It doesn't make any sense," Golden said.

Owens looked up the man on her iPad and found his conviction (for stealing sneakers at a K-mart in high school) and his probation violation (for being in a park after hours when he was in college).

Then she found a Certificate of Restoration of Civil Rights. "He got his voting rights back," she told Sykes. "We can fix this."

Owens got the clemency office to fax the paperwork to her.

"Good news," she told the man on his cell. "You can vote."

Adul Yates had been so angry since Saturday. Yates, 35, had just been promoted by the city of St. Petersburg, where he cleans parks. He helps coach wrestling at Boca Ciega High. He had passed background checks, had voted since he was 18.

So when Owens called Yates Tuesday afternoon, he was ecstatic. "I so appreciate this."

"I'm just so happy to end the day like this," Owens said.

Yates walked into his Coquina Key precinct — then walked back out. "They said my name isn't in their book," he told Owens.

On the phone, Owens learned from elections officials that Yates had been removed in 2010.

"Did you send him any notification?" asked Owens. A notice was sent, said the official — to an address in Gainesville where Yates hasn't lived since 2007.

He could fill out a provisional ballot, the official said.

"But will his vote be counted?" asked Owens. The official couldn't say.

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