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Judge wants evidence of voter fraud

(ran NS S editions of Tampa Bay & State)

Protesters of St. Petersburg's March 23 election must produce some evidence of their fraud allegations within a week, or a judge will deny their proposal to check all voters' signatures, the judge said Friday.

"I don't think we should be proceeding on the basis of a hypothesis," Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Gerard O'Brien said. "You . . . have to proceed on a reasonable basis. It's not a fishing expedition."

Protesters Joseph Miele and William Scanlan need to present evidence that people cast votes using names other than their own, O'Brien said, if he is expected to pursue that charge (one in a collection of claims Miele and Scanlan have made about improper procedures in the March race). The claims of ballot fraud and questionable computer software and hardware have prompted an investigation supervised by O'Brien.

Later Friday, Scanlan said they will be prepared to meet the judge's request.

Tempers flared during Friday's hearing as representatives for the protesters, the city's canvassing board, Pinellas County's supervisor of elections and the election's defeated candidates tried to present their ideas on how the investigation should proceed.

Each wanted something different. And each said so, loudly.

A city lawyer said the probe should be over and blasted Miele and Scanlan for adding new allegations of wrongdoing every step of the way. Assistant City Attorney Mirella James asked the judge to take more control over the probe and accused Miele and Scanlan of using it to get publicity and funds for their organization.

A county lawyer wanted to proceed with a planned recount and put the issue to rest.

And Miele, Scanlan and Ernest Curtsinger's attorney Fredric Zinober want to check voters' signatures for fraud. A recount, they said, would be meaningless if the ballots were tainted to start with.

"I have two ears, but I can't listen to two mouths at once," the judge said. At one point, a bailiff warned the parties to step back from the judge's bench.

Teams of volunteers and election workers will begin recounting the 73,000 votes July 6, O'Brien ruled.

The recount, which marks the third time the votes have been tallied but the first time they will be counted by hand, is expected to take two weeks with 16 teams of two people working from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. O'Brien was seeking volunteer help from civic organizations to conduct the count.