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58 voters get wrong ballots in Pinellas
Some in St. Petersburg who requested absentee ballots for Tuesday's municipal election got Belleair ballots instead.
By CARRIE JOHNSON,    St. Petersburg Times     November 4, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Nearly 60 voters in the northern end of the city got a surprise in the mail after requesting absentee ballots for the upcoming municipal election.

Instead of receiving the slate of St. Petersburg candidates, they got a ballot from Belleair, the only other Pinellas County locality holding an election Tuesday.

Nancy Whitlock, a spokeswoman for Pinellas supervisor of elections Deborah Clark, said an employee simply sent the wrong ballot to voters. The mistake was detected the next day when a recipient called to complain.

The 58 voters were in Precinct 183, whose polling place is Americana Cove, 7201 First Street NE.

The correct ballots were immediately mailed to the voters, Whitlock said. The supervisor's office also telephoned all recipients to alert them to the error. Whitlock said they reached all but five. One voter who received the incorrect ballot was state Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, who served as Hillsborough County's supervisor of elections from 1970 to 1974.

"I know the intense pressure a supervisor goes through to prepare for an election," Sebesta said. "No one ever wants to make a mistake, but to some extent, it's understandable."

Clark's office was plagued with problems during the 2004 election. Her staff lost track of 280 absentee and provisional ballots that were not counted until it was too late.

Her office also reported the wrong results to state officials in two referendum questions. The errors were made by a staff member who mistakenly reported "no" votes as "yes" votes for a statewide constitutional amendment legalizing slot machines in South Florida and a Pinellas charter amendment giving the county administrator authority to hire and fire employees without board confirmation.

Though both amendments failed in Pinellas, the staff member recorded them as passing.

There have been other problems in the past.

In 2000, the office neglected to count about 1,400 absentee ballots on Election Day - and counted another 600 ballots twice. The following year, Clark's office misplaced six absentee ballots in a Tarpon Springs city election, which were later found.

In 2002, Clark's staff mislabeled ballots in a race for a Lealman fire commission seat. About 600 voters who should have been able to vote in the race could not; another 700 who weren't entitled to vote were allowed to.

After the 2004 mishaps, Clark disciplined six employees and added new security measures to prevent future incidents.

Sebesta said he still had confidence in Clark and her office despite the most recent mistake.

"It was not fatal," he said. "They detected the error and corrected it."

Whitlock said that as of Thursday afternoon, the office had received 36 of the corrected ballots from the precinct and none of the incorrect ballots.

"Things can happen," she said. "It's a manual process. But we feel confident that it hasn't created a problem."

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