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  1. Florida Politics

Voting groups say Florida leads in calls to elections hotline

Campaign signs are posted along a lawn next to the North Tampa Branch Library in late October, along with a sign directing voters to an early-voting site. [CHARLIE KAIJO | Times]
Published Nov. 4, 2016

Elections officials told a woman in Miami who moved from a different county that she could not vote.

A volunteer with voting rights groups saw a poll watcher at the North Miami Public Library confront people who asked for language assistance. In Hialeah, voters struggled to get translators.

Voters elsewhere complain they haven't received mail-in ballots they requested weeks ago.

These were among the 1,700 calls by Florida residents through a national elections hotline — the highest number for any state.

As the 2016 presidential race hurtles toward Tuesday's finish line, complaints handled by the National Election Protection Hotline about early voting and mail ballots provide a possible glimpse of any confusion to come.

Representatives of the voting rights groups that run the hotline spoke with reporters Thursday to detail what they've heard. The bulk of the calls have come from South Florida, but the hotline has received calls from 90 voters in Hillsborough County and 70 in Pinellas asking for information about voting.

In some parts of the state, callers have complained that election officials or people monitoring polling places stood in the way of their voting rights, said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

"We work to overcome the misinformation that is sometimes imparted by poll workers to ensure that all voters are able to successfully cast a ballot," Clarke said.

The lawyers' committee is working with other organizations to staff polling places with volunteers to monitor problems and handle complaints on the hotline. Among them is the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which sued Secretary of State Ken Detzner to extend the voter registration deadline after Hurricane Matthew struck last month.

Activists are particularly concerned about people not being allowed to vote or being wrongly given a provisional ballot, long lines and conflicts with monitors who are preapproved to observe the election from the polling place.

In Tampa Bay, local election officials say they haven't seen widespread problems.

"We've had a couple of little equipment issues here or there," said Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer.

He said he believes the county is ready for the final days of the election. Lines are moving quickly, and Latimer doesn't expect poll watchers to cause a problem.

"They very much know what their responsibilities are and what their limitations are," he said. "We've asked them to leave before."

Pinellas County similarly hasn't had issues with early voting, said Jason Latimer, a spokesman for Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark.

According to the Lawyers' Committee, most hotline calls statewide since early voting began Oct. 24 have been questions about mail-in ballots. Some people called to complain about not receiving their absentee ballots. Others said they had heard from political groups that said they hadn't yet sent in their ballot — despite putting it in the mail already.

The group is gearing up for Election Day, as well, Clarke said, with lawyers, students and other volunteers on the ground to help with voting problems in South Florida, Tampa Bay, Orlando and Jacksonville.

Michael Auslen can be reached at maulsen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.

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