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Cuomo backers out of luck in Florida

To the people who want to write in Mario Cuomo as a presidential candidate, Florida is a write-off.

Unlike many states, Florida allows no write-in candidates in primary elections, said Dot Joyce, director of the state Division of Elections.

So Floridians who want to scribble "Cuomo" or "David Duke" or any other name on their ballots in the March 10 presidential primary will be out of luck.

"It effectively eliminates plans in Florida," said Don Rose, national political director for the National Draft Mario Cuomo Committee.

Cuomo backers hope to persuade the New York governor to run for president. Many believe that the five major Democratic candidates don't have a chance to defeat President Bush, assuming Bush wins the Republican nomination.

As a write-in candidate who had not declared an intention to run, Cuomo received 6,577 votes, or 4 percent of the total, in Tuesday's Democratic primary in New Hampshire, according to final figures.

Lew Breyer of St. Petersburg was organizing a statewide effort to support Cuomo in Florida until he found out that write-in candidates are not allowed.

Now Breyer is worried that people may throw away their votes by thinking they can write in their candidate. "A lot of people may go to the polls and try to write in Cuomo," Breyer said. "If they do that, they're going to nullify their vote."

Dorothy Ruggles, Pinellas County's supervisor of elections, said that if someone tries to write on the computer card ballot, the name written on it will not be tallied. But the other votes recorded on the card will be tabulated, she said.

Although write-in candidates are not allowed in primaries in Florida, they are allowed in the general elections if certain procedures are followed, Joyce said.

Rose said there is still a "long-shot" chance of getting Cuomo votes in Florida. If one of the Democratic candidates drops out, he could leave his name on the ballot, and allow Cuomo backers to vote under his name. That support could help Cuomo during the Democratic Convention.

_ CURTIS KRUEGER

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