Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Politics

Pinellas voters get robocall from elections boss saying they have until 'tomorrow' to vote

ST. PETERSBURG — Thousands of Pinellas County voters, including the wife of former Gov. Charlie Crist, got an unexpected — and incorrect — call from the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office on Tuesday morning saying they had an extra day to turn in their mail-in, absentee ballot.

"This message is from your Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections," a woman says in the prerecorded call. "The general election is tomorrow. If you want to vote and return your mail ballot, please take it to any ballot dropoff site by 7 p.m. tomorrow. If you decide to vote at your polling place, please bring your mail ballot with you so it can be canceled and you can avoid delays."

The call, which was recorded by the supervisor of elections office to remind voters to turn in their ballot, was supposed to go out Monday — hence the reference to "tomorrow," elections officials said.

But a vendor error delayed the call to 12,525 voters until about 8 a.m. Tuesday. By then, tomorrow meant Wednesday. Elections officials realized the error and quickly recorded another message telling voters the correct information — that ballots had to be turned in by 7 p.m. Tuesday.

"I wished we had said 'Election Day'," Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark said.

News of the screwup quickly spread across the country as another example of Florida's election futility.

"Are you kidding me Florida?" Aasif Mandvi, a comedian on The Daily Show, posted on his Twitter account, linking to the story of Pinellas County's foible.

Crist and his wife, Carole, were campaigning for President Barack Obama in Tampa on Tuesday when Mrs. Crist's cell phone showed a call from Pinellas County. The robocall said polls would be open until "tomorrow."

"Unbelievable," said the former governor.

"This Supervisor of Elections should be fired at the next election," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn posted on his Twitter account.

Instead, Clark, a Republican, was re-elected Tuesday to a fourth, four-year term.

Clark said she thinks the error was overblown and credits voters with having better sense to be fooled by one phone call. "I wish it had not happened," Clark, 63, said. "But I don't have time today to stop and be concerned about what somebody is blogging or what somebody is tweeting.."

Clark has worked for the Pinellas County elections office for more than 30 years and has held its top job since 2000. Her tenure as supervisor has not been without error and controversy. Her office mishandled some ballots in 2004, and during the 2012 August primary, a piece of computer equipment failed to route election results from telephone lines into a computer server. The glitch forced Clark's staff to deliver the data by hand at local elections offices throughout the county.

Clark also chose to limit early voting locations in the county, saying people should vote by mail instead. Only about 40,000 people participated in early voting ahead of the presidential election. In Pasco County, which has 300,000 fewer registered voters, 60,000 people participated in early voting.

Another voter who got the bogus call said it wasn't easy alerting elections officials of the erroneous messages.

Kathie Spitzer, a 55-year-old St. Petersburg resident who works from home, said she got the recorded message at 8:07 a.m.

It was a recording of a woman's voice. She identified herself as an employee with the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office, Spitzer said, and she had something to tell voters.

"She said that they would take ballots through 7 p.m. tomorrow," Spitzer said. "I couldn't believe it. It was very upsetting."

Spitzer said she called the phone number that came up on her caller ID. It led her directly to the Supervisor of Elections Office. When she told the woman who picked up the phone about the call, she was told it was impossible, there was no way such a call was made. She was directed to another woman, who also told her that it was impossible and no such messages were sent out.

"They were very uncooperative," Spitzer said.

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.

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