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Florida voters told they can vote Wednesday by elections department

November 06, 2012|By Joseph Tanfani
  • A poll worker gets "I Voted" stickers ready to hand to voters as they finish up at the ballot booths at Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library in South Tampa, Fla.
A poll worker gets "I Voted" stickers ready to hand to voters… (Carolina Hidalgo / Tampa…)

TAMPA, Fla. -- About 12,000 phones in Pinellas County started ringing on election day, offering a reassuring automated message for those who picked up: Voters still had until Wednesday to turn in their absentee ballots.

By then, of course, the election would be over and the votes wouldn't count. In the past, such calls have been political dirty trick, but these calls came straight from the Pinellas County Elections Department.

An automated dialer started making calls around 8 a.m. Tuesday -- by mistake using an outdated message, said Nancy Whitlock, the department's communications director.

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She said the message went to voters who'd requested absentee ballots but hadn't turned them in yet. The department found out when irate voters started calling to complain; within an hour, the message had been switched to the correct one, she said.

The phone mix-up was one of a scattered number of voting irregularities across Florida, the huge and volatile swing state that, in this razor-close election, has been on high alert for issues of potential voter suppression or other problems that could depress turnout.

In Miami, where some voters waited six hours during early voting, some polling places had around-the-block lines again when polls opened Tuesday morning. Here in Hillsborough County, the phones in the elections department were working only intermittently, said Travis Abercrombie, spokesman for the department.

The phone issues were adding to the confusion at the polls, said Dara Lindenbaum, an attorney volunteering with the group Election Protection. In one precinct, about 15 voters who arrived at one place were told their polling place had moved -- but they weren't told the correct new location, she said.

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"People are just getting sent around and they are not getting the right answers," she said.

Abercrombie said he hadn't heard about that issue but that any problems were isolated. In most places, he said, the lines were moving smoothly.

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joseph.tanfani@latimes.com

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