Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Absentee Ballots Absent

According to WPLG-TV Channel 10 (aka Local 10), 58,000 absentee ballots in Broward County, Florida (Fort Lauderdale) are missing.

Local 10 has received many phone calls from viewers in Broward County who say they have not received the absentee ballots –- and the news from the elections office doesn’t sound good.

Local 10 has learned that many as many as 58,000 ballots that were supposed to mailed out on Oct. 7 and 8 could be missing.

The Broward County Supervisor of Elections office is saying only that the situation is “unusual,” and they are looking into it.

Gisela Salas, Broward Deputy Elections Supervisor, said, “I hate to say ‘missing’ at this time because that has not yet be substantiated. Some ballots are starting to arrive. But there is an extraordinary delay.”

An elections office representative told Local 10 that the office has investigated with the U.S. Post Office what might have happened to the ballots, but so far, no one has been able to figure it out.

“It is unusual. It’s a puzzle on the part of our office and the postal service,” Salas said. “Our office did make the delivery and the post office assures us they were processed. What happened is in question.”

The postal service told Local 10 late Tuesday that they don’t have 58,000 ballots floating around. They did say that they have several employees assigned to deal only with ballots and they are being delivered in one to two days — once they get them.

As far as the voters go that haven’t received their ballots, the elections office is now suggesting that they take the opportunity to vote early.

Since many who request absentee ballots cannot physically vote in their county, there are likely to be some angry voters.

The Sun-Sentinel picks it up from there.

The Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office on Tuesday pointed a finger at the U.S. Postal Service on Tuesday for nearly 60,000 missing absentee ballots, but took the blame for having a phone system that was being overwhelmed by calls from frustrated voters.

While the post office denied responsibility for the missing ballots, Broward County commissioners, anxious to void another failed election, offered to send county employees to help with the phones. Dozens of employees could begin assisting the elections office today to answer telephone calls and to process voters at the 14 early voting sites.

“What we are seeing is unprecedented, so if the supervisor of elections needs our help, we will help,” County Mayor Ilene Lieberman said. “It’s a week to the election, and voting is a basic right in our country.”

Just six days away from the general election, the Supervisor of Elections Office has fielded hundreds of complaints from people that have yet to receive their absentee ballot. Countless more have been unable to get through to election officials to complain or get their questions answered.

“I tried for the last week or so to call the elections office and it’s just busy continually,” said Paula Zubatkin, 70, whose four-week-old request for an absentee ballot has gone unanswered. “I want to vote.”

Election officials also said they launched an investigation and found that many of the missing ballots — 58,000 of them — were sent on Oct. 7 and Oct 8. The problem, they say, lies with the post office.

“That is something beyond our control,” Deputy Supervisor of Elections Gisela Salas said. “We really have no idea what’s going on. It’s just taken an extraordinary amount of time. I would really encourage people to use early voting.”

Post office officials say they are not at fault.

“We have employees that we assign to handle the absentee ballots that come in,” said Enola C. Rice, spokeswoman for the Postal Service’s South Florida District. “So all the absentee ballots that are received by the Postal Service are processed and delivered immediately.”

She said most local mail is delivered in one day.

This is just another turn in the strange things that have been going on down here in getting ready for the election – the court battles over touchscreen paper trails, filling in the forms correctly, and missing ballot pages. Sounds like it’s time to sharpen up the lawyers.