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Election chief warns of absentee scam: People posing as election officials are visiting residents of several counties and offering to take absentee ballots.

St Petersburg Times. By STEPHEN HEGARTY, Times Staff Writer Published October 22, 2004

Pasco elections officials have a warning for the county's absentee voters: Don't give your ballot to a stranger claiming to be from the elections office.

They're not who they say they are.

"The people who are soliciting your ballots in this manner are not elections officials," Pasco Elections Supervisor Kurt Browning warned Thursday.

The warning came after a phone call from a west Pasco woman. Other Florida counties have gotten similar complaints.

"We've had a bunch of them - 100 at least," said Bob Sweat, elections supervisor for Manatee County. "It's probably going on all over the state of Florida."

The Pasco woman said someone came to her home to collect her absentee ballot earlier this week. She said she was led to believe they were from the elections office. The woman told the strangers she hadn't completed the ballot, but they took it anyway.

The deception is the latest sign of the lengths to which some partisans appear ready to go in this election. Elections officials worry there will be many more complaints of overly aggressive behavior in attempts to affect the outcome of the presidential race.

Browning's office had not yet received the woman's absentee ballot Thursday. Given the circumstances, Browning arranged to send her another.

Other counties have had numerous complaints about similar misrepresentations.

"We've had a few people with those complaints - I'd say less than 10," said Dan Nolan, chief of staff for Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson. Johnson said he routinely advises voters to send their absentee ballots in via mail, or to bring it directly to his office.

In Manatee, there have been numerous complaints, and the Sheriff's Office is investigating.

Manatee Elections Supervisor Sweat said the people collecting the ballots appeared to know exactly who had absentee ballots. It is possible for political parties, candidates and political groups to get lists of voters who request the absentee ballots.

Sweat said it appeared the collections were occurring in neighborhoods full of low-income, minority and elderly residents.

Several political-oriented groups are working hard to get their supporters to vote early, either through absentee ballots or early voting. It is legal for them to collect absentee ballots and turn them in to an elections office, so long as they don't misrepresent themselves or alter the ballots.

In his warning, Browning said, "I need to make it very clear that my office will never show up at your place of residence to collect your absentee ballot."

Because the presidential race is so close in Florida and its 27 electoral votes could decide who will take the White House, political groups are aggressively working to get their supporters to vote. Many say, though, that they are keeping their hands off the actual ballots.

A representative from the group Americans Coming Together said Thursday that they urge people to request absentee ballots, then collect the request cards and turn them in to elections officials. They have turned in thousands of requests in the Tampa Bay area. However, ACT stays away from the actual ballots, according to Tait Sye, state communications director for ACT, a Democratic voter mobilization group.

"We have turned in thousands of request cards for Pasco," Sye said. "But we are not collecting the absentee ballots, period."

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