TAMPA — Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson has decked out the exteriors of two county vans to remind people that Florida has switched to paper ballots.
The vans feature large pens on each side and say "Voting with a paper trail," along with Johnson's name and title. His name and title also are on the back.
His challenger in the November election, Phyllis Busansky, says Johnson's message is self-promotion in disguise.
Attempts to reach Johnson on Friday were unsuccessful. But his chief of staff, Kathy Harris, said he is charged with educating voters on the switch. This is one way of doing that, along with demonstrating machines, which she said Johnson is also doing.
"We're transitioning to an entirely different system in a year we're electing a president," Harris said. "One of the things we're trying to do is let the community know about the new system."
The images are decals, and cost $1,099, according to an invoice Harris provided. The money came from a state grant. The decals were put on the vans about seven weeks ago, she said.
Harris said the vehicles are leased through the county's Fleet Maintenance Department and transport voting equipment.
Busansky, a Democrat and former county commissioner, said Johnson is publicizing himself using tax dollars.
"I just need to tell you, Buddy has gone over the edge," she said. "The state has not mandated him to use those funds for his own personal campaigning. I think he's just desperate."
Johnson has been accused by others of using his position to promote himself. Marcella O'Steen, an east county activist, has asked his office to stop sending her e-mails at a pace of two or three a day sometimes describing Johnson's visits to schools and other activities.
She said she also has problems with sample ballots mailed from his office that include the word "Vote" and Johnson's name side by side. She said the vans are over the top.
"If the purpose of having writing on the vans is educating the public on how to vote, then why have his name on there at all," O'Steen said. Harris said plenty of other elected officials have their names on cars and even buildings, but declined to point fingers.
"Buddy Johnson is the supervisor of elections," Harris said. "I'm not sure who's name (your) editors think ought to be associated with the office."