Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Area voters in Florida Primary are reporting problems at polls

One voter was told by poll workers there was no Democratic primary today

On Florida Primary day, voters are reporting problems across Central Florida from Daytona Beach to Hunter's Creek. Among the precincts experiencing glitches was one in Orange County where voters were told by poll workers early on there was no Democratic primary today.

Phil Marjason said poll workers at precinct 145 in Hunter's Creek would not give him a Democratic ballot.

"I thought it was plain wrong," he said. "We need to get Florida straightened out."

Orange County Election Supervisor Bill Cowles confirmed that the clerk at the precinct made a mistake.

"I have learned that we did have a situation right at 7 a.m. this morning," Cowles wrote via e-mail to the Sentinel. "The clerk admits she made a mistake."

But Orange County officials said their records show Marjason was given a Democratic ballot and it was cast. Marjason disagreed.

"You sign a piece of paper then you walk over to the next table and they hand you a ballot," he said. "It probably shows that I signed for it, but they didn't give me a Democratic ballot."

Sheneka McDonald spent 10 minutes trying to convince poll workers at the same precinct that she should have a Democratic ballot. She questioned poll workers when she was handed a Republican ballot but was told, "this is the only ballot we have."

"I said, 'How can this be the only ballot,'" McDonald recalled. "That's when the guy chimed in from the back and said the Democratic primary was in March."

The poll captain eventually apologized to McDonald and told her they had forgotten to unpack all the ballots. "It was a little unnerving this morning," she said. "I don't see how you forget to unpack ballots. This is what gives Florida its reputation."

Sharon McDonald said she was given an independent ballot at the Astatula Community Center in Lake County, even though she told the poll workers she was a registered Democrat.

She said she was told that the Democratic primary votes didn't count, so she did not question the ballot. "Shame on me," said McDonald, a homemaker.

A call to the Lake County supervisor of elections office was not immediately returned.

Julie Shepherd, another Orange County voter, ran into a problem at precinct 138 at the Metrowest Golf Club and spent 35 minutes trying to convince poll workers that she's a registered Democrat.

Shepherd, who moved from Pasco County two years ago, said she's a life-long Democrat and blamed the elections supervisor's office for the mistake.

"It's not my error," she said. "Whoever entered my information must have gotten it wrong."

Cowles said that has been the most common complaint from voters during early voting in the primary. But in most cases, the voter is not registered as a Democrat or Republican, he said.

Seminole Election Supervisor Michael Ertel agreed.

"About 95 percent of the calls we're getting involve people who want to vote in the primary," he said.

At least a dozen voters in Orange, Lake, Seminole and Osceola counties claimed they had problems receiving the correct ballots.

Marta Daly of west Orange County had a mix up, too, but it turns out she was mistaken with her party affiliation. She thought she was a Republican, but had registered as an independent in 2000. She was given a nonpartisan ballot, but promises to change her affiliation to Republican before the next election.

In Volusia County, a voting discrepancy at one early voting location has been corrected, said Election Supervisor Ann McFall.

Election officials noticed a four-vote discrepancy between the number of ballots signed for and the number of ballots cast at the Daytona Beach City Island early voting site. The vote count came up one vote shy on Jan. 23 and three votes shy on Jan. 26, McFall said.

The county's elections canvassing board decided Tuesday to re-feed the ballots from the City Island location. The process turned up the four lost ballots.

"Apparently the machine failed to count the four votes the first time," McFall said.

The glitch shouldn't be cause for concern, she said.

"We had the paper ballots to do the repeat," she said. "Three other voting precincts got it perfectly and 10 out of 12 days got it perfectly in Daytona. Our internal system caught it."

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