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Trump's talk of 'rigged' election alarms Florida election officials

TALLAHASSEE

Donald Trump's talk of a "rigged election" has dismayed Florida elections officials and prompted President Barack Obama to call the GOP presidential nominee's allegations "unprecedented" in U.S. history.

"It's frustrating to hear that. We're doing everything we can to build up voter confidence," said Brian Corley, supervisor of elections in Pasco County "To cast aspersions like that, when you don't know the facts, is disappointing."

Corley is one of 67 supervisors who run elections in Florida's counties. Three weeks before Election Day, the supervisors are working 14-hour days training poll workers, testing voting equipment, distributing mail ballots, verifying voter registration forms and fielding questions from voters.

At a poll worker training session in Dade City, Corley said, a worker asked if indeed the outcome was rigged as Trump says it is.

Of course not, said Corley.

But doubts of election tampering persist.

Hillsborough Republican Party chairwoman Deborah Tamargo, a Trump supporter, said she worries about people out of state trying to influence voters or trick them into changing their voter registration information.

"Do I think supervisors of elections are involved? No," she said. "But do I think there is fraud going on? Yes."

Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer said 14 party workers showed up for a test of his equipment Tuesday in Tampa. Nearly 300 more have credentials to work as poll watchers at early voting sites beginning next Monday.

"I am extremely comfortable with the openness and the transparency that we go through here in Florida," Latimer said. "We're going to run a very efficient, transparent and accurate election."

Obama told Trump on Tuesday to "stop whining" about losing an election that hasn't happened yet.

"The notion that somehow, if Mr. Trump loses Florida, it's because of those people that you have to watch out for — that is both irresponsible and, by the way, it doesn't really show the kind of leadership and toughness that you'd want out of a president," Obama told reporters at the White House.

Not all Republicans echo Trump's concerns. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio supports Trump, but criticized him in a statewide TV debate Monday night and said no evidence of a rigged election exists.

"He should stop saying that," Rubio said of Trump. "We have 67 counties in this state, each of which conducts its elections. I promise you, there is not a 67-county conspiracy to rig this election."

If Trump really believes the election is rigged, he's not doing anything to prevent it, even in the place he considers his second home, Palm Beach County, which was the epicenter of voting problems in the 2000 presidential election.

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said that teams of Democratic lawyers are in regular contact with her office on a wide range of voting issues.

But from Trump and the Republicans, there's been only silence, Bucher said Tuesday.

When Bucher conducted a public test of voting equipment last Friday, the executive director of the county Republican Party, Ryan Hnatiuk, attended and left satisfied with what he saw.

"He seemed to think that everything was on track," Bucher said.

Hnatiuk did not respond to a request for comment.

Bucher, a former Democratic state legislator who oversees voting in one of Florida's largest and most liberal counties, said most voters don't take Trump's talk seriously.

She said she's receiving record requests for mail ballots and people were lined up in her office to register to vote Tuesday to beat the 5 p.m. deadline after a weeklong extension ordered by a federal judge

But on Trump's latest campaign swing across Florida that included West Palm Beach and three other cities last week, the Republican nominee reiterated the claim as a way to fire up his political base and, perhaps, distract from his plummeting poll numbers.

"We're in a rigged system, folks," Trump told the crowd of several thousand people at a rally in Ocala last Wednesday. "This is a rigged, rigged system."

Trump's "rigged" talk could undermine faith in democracy, said Al Cardenas, who headed the Republican Party of Florida during the 2000 recount and is a former leader of the American Conservative Union.

"If you ever undermine the will of the people, challenge it, or put it into question, it's the very essence of our country that you're tarnishing," Cardenas told CNN. "This is pure nonsense and shame on any American who believes this election is rigged."

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com and follow him @stevebousquet.

Trump's talk of 'rigged' election alarms Florida election officials 10/18/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 18, 2016 8:28pm]
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