Election Day problems in Hernando started early — and ended late

Published Sep. 6, 2014

BROOKSVILLE — In 14 years of voting in Hernando County, Spring Hill resident Diana Thomas says she had never experienced what she did in the Aug. 26 primary election.

Instead of simply scanning her driver's license and handing her a ballot, a poll worker had Thomas recite her personal information, including her date of birth. Then the worker repeated the information over the phone to someone in the elections office, which Thomas considered an invasion of privacy.

"I wanted to know why these people were asking me for this kind of information,'' Thomas said.

Because she had requested a vote-by-mail ballot, the call was necessary to verify that Thomas had not yet voted.

Ordinarily, the verification would have taken place via the polling place's Electronic Voter Identification system. But the poll worker at Grace Presbyterian Church on Spring Hill Drive told Thomas that the precinct's EViD system was not working, nor were the systems at most other polling places.

For Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson, who was running her first election, the EVid problem was one of several on Election Day, according to voter observations, emails to and from Anderson, and a post-election survey of precinct coordinators.

Immediately after the election, Anderson, who ran for office on a platform of restoring integrity to the elections office, accepted the blame for her website crashing as the polls closed, pushing final results to after 11 p.m. She never mentioned issues at the polling places.

Early indicators foreshadowed a challenging day.

At 7:40 a.m., less than an hour after polls opened, Anderson was copied on an email by Denise Kelly, her office manager. Kelly wrote to Walter Strickland at EarthLink, the system that Anderson used to connect the EViD machines to her office computer, which stores voter information.

"Walter, please call me ASAP,'' Kelly wrote. "None of our lines are staying connected and it's election day! They connect and then turn around and disconnect. Please help."

Other emails show the office scrambling and parceling out six technicians to fix various issues throughout the day at many of the county's 30 voting locations.

"We will not be using EarthLink again,'' Anderson told the Tampa Bay Times this week. Instead, she said her office will use air cards during the general election to establish links between the EViD machines and her office.

About the same time Kelly was emailing Strickland regarding the EarthLink problem, elections office staffers learned that people were having trouble connecting with the office's website, That turned out to be a different issue than the one that caused the crash on election night, but was also vexing to voters trying to obtain information.

At polling places, other problems surfaced.

When Andrew Williams went to vote, like Thomas, he was told that he would have to be verified because he had received a mail ballot. He brought the unmarked ballot with him to turn in so he could fill out a regular ballot, a process he knew was correct because his wife is former Democratic Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams. Still, the workers had him fill out another form, turning what should have been a quick voting experience into a 20-minute exercise.

"They didn't know what they were doing,'' Williams said of the poll workers. "They weren't trained properly.''

That complaint was also reflected in the surveys that Anderson, a Republican, had her precinct coordinators fill out. Several suggested more training was needed. There was also mention of the need for cross-training because some of the scheduled workers who had been taught specific tasks didn't show up on Election Day.

In one precinct, a husband and wife each were asked to fill out a special form known as a multi-purpose affirmation form. The husband was so irate about the paperwork, he left without voting. But Anderson said the form was not necessary. More training for workers will come before November, as required by law, she said.

She also noted that she tells her workers to never turn away a voter. Yet, in another case, that apparently happened.

Williams said he knows of an elderly voter who was turned away from his proper precinct, then went to the polling place where he was told he could vote. Workers at the polling place sent him back to the original precinct. He simply opted to go home.

"He cried,'' Williams said of his friend.

Other problems detailed in surveys, and by voters, included confusion about where to vote; voters upset that they got mail ballots they didn't ask for; missing passwords on touch-screen machines; some tabulating machines not loading properly; and specific problems with poll workers at various precincts.

Steve Zeledon, who heads the county's Democratic Executive Committee, said he got numerous calls from voters upset by the confusion at polling places. His Republican counterpart, Blaise Ingoglia, said he did not hear a single concern about the election.

"Overall, we were pleased with Election Day,'' Anderson told the Times.

But, she added, "We're taking our lessons learned and gearing up so we are ready for November.''