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State office is inundated with new voter registration forms

TALLAHASSEE — So many new voters want a say in the 2008 presidential election in Florida that the state needs help from counties to get all those new voters registered in time.

The state, which has managed voter registration since a statewide voter database went online in 2006, notified counties Wednesday that it will ship new applications to counties for processing. That will add to the counties' workloads less than six weeks before Election Day.

About 10.6-million were registered to vote for the August primary. But groups across the political spectrum have been rushing to sign up hundreds of thousands of new voters.

The number of applications has spiked during the past 10 days. On Tuesday alone, the state said, it received 25,000 registration forms. In August, 100,000 forms were submitted.

A team of 25 temporary state employees working 12- to 16-hour shifts can't keep up.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning said, "We're processing applications as fast and as accurately as we can, but you get to a point of diminishing returns."

State law requires forms to be processed within 13 days of receipt. The deadline to register for the Nov. 4 election is Oct. 6. Mailed forms must reach the office by Oct. 13.

Some election supervisors have more faith in their own record keeping than the state's, and quickly answered the call.

Pinellas County's Deborah Clark offered to review not just forms from voters in her county but those from other counties if needed.

"We will give it our best effort," Clark told the state.

"We'll absolutely get it done," added Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson, whose office has a backlog of about 9,000 forms. "We're all one big team."

"Okaloosa County will take as many applications as you want to send us," Election Supervisor Pat Hollarn wrote from Fort Walton Beach.

A voter-registration group with ties to the Democratic Party says the state backlog was a result of Florida's much-debated requirement that driver's license numbers or the last four Social Security digits on voting applications must match numbers in government databases before an application is deemed a qualified voter.

"The extra effort to do the 'no match, no vote' work must be gumming up the system," said Brian Kettenring of ACORN, which claims to have registered 130,000 new voters.

Browning said the verification law was not to blame and said there's no backlog of unmatched voter forms at present.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho criticized Browning for not anticipating an avalanche of voter forms in an election with such high interest.

"The enthusiasm is immense, which is going to mean a tremendous workload," Sancho said.

In response, Browning said the state would process all of Leon County's voter registration forms.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

State office is inundated with new voter registration forms 09/24/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 30, 2008 3:14pm]

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