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Voters still without ballots in a jam
Glenda Hood tells worried voters to keep checking mailboxes.

By Jane Musgrave

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

With some people waiting in line for as long as four hours to vote early and hundreds of others clamoring for absentee ballots, Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood toured Palm Beach County on Tuesday and declared its handling of alternative voting methods a success.

"I'm very impressed with the organization and people's attitudes, that they're willing to stand in line for four hours to vote," said Hood, who oversees the state elections office.
Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore said she had mailed out 128,000 ballots through Monday. Requests made through Sunday have been taken care of and about 7,000 are being mailed out each day, she said.

Hood's cheery optimism wasn't shared by party officials or those worried that they won't get their ballots soon enough to mail them back to arrive before Tuesday's 7 p.m. deadline. They spoke darkly of election office phones that constantly ring busy, questions that go unanswered, sample ballots that haven't arrived and fears of election meltdown. And a few voters said some of the pages of their absentee ballots were missing.

Daniel Peck, who lives on Singer Island and spends summers in Massachusetts, said the back page of his wife's ballot was blank. A postal clerk told her she would have to mail her ballot back by today to make sure it arrived in West Palm Beach by Tuesday, Peck said.

Since the one-page ballot includes the presidential race, Peck said his wife will probably mail it and forgo the chance to vote on any of the eight constitutional amendments.

Lillian Katz, who splits her time between New Jersey and Palm Beach County, didn't receive the absentee ballot she ordered on Sept. 13. She put her reaction bluntly: "I feel I'm sacrificing my vote for someone's crookedness."

Dana Simon of Wellington said she doesn't believe in conspiracy theories. But, she said, it will probably cost her husband at least $40 to vote.

Because he didn't receive the ballot he ordered on Oct. 4 when he learned he would have to be out of town on Election Day, she will have to express mail it to him and he will then have to express mail it back.

"When I moved down here a year ago from New Jersey, I never thought I'd be in the middle of an election debacle," she said. "It's just chaos."

LePore said she received one report of a blank page on a ballot. She attributed that to a printing problem. She said there have been "sporadic" reports of people receiving incomplete ballots, but the problem is not widespread.

"They're human," she said of those who stuff the envelopes. "That's not an excuse. We're trying to better monitor the assembly line."

She said she can't explain why people say they haven't received ballots they ordered weeks ago. "We take them to the post office and then it's out of my hands."

"What we've gotten, we've delivered," said Sonya Scherle, customer relations manager for the U.S. Postal Service in West Palm Beach.

LePore, who said sample ballots were mailed out last Wednesday, was also at a loss to explain why Palm Beach has outpaced even Miami-Dade in total absentee ballots. With roughly 300,000 more registered voters, Miami-Dade had processed 118,614 absentee ballot requests through Sunday.

Leaders of both local parties were equally puzzled by the absentee ballot problem, which has kept phones at their offices tied up for days.

The answering machine at Republican headquarters begins by advising anyone calling about absentee ballots to contact LePore's office.

Party Chairman Sid Dinerstein said the message underscores the massive scale of the problem. He worries about the Election Day effect of both the lines at the county's eight early voting locations and people's inability to get absentee ballots.

Frustrated in their attempt to vote before the election, voters will swell crowds at the polls, he said.

State party officials estimate that it takes voters an average of 10 minutes to complete the lengthy ballot. After calculating roughly how many precincts there are and how many machines are available, Dinerstein predicted gridlock on Nov. 2.

Carol Ann Loehndorf, chairwoman of the local Democratic Party, said each day her office forwards names of people who have called the office to the party's attorney to determine if there's any way to help them get absentee ballots. So far this week, she said, roughly 350 names have been sent.

"I didn't expect absentee ballots to be this kind of problem," she said. "They say they've sent them, but where did they go? Because the people don't have them."

Hood said elections supervisors never expected this.

"Supervisors across the state are overwhelmed," she said. "None of them realized how many people would take advantage of early voting."

The record-breaking requests for absentee ballots caught them equally off-guard, she said.

But for months Democrats have been telling party faithful that absentee ballots are the only way to create a paper record of their vote in case a recount is needed. And for decades Republicans have pushed absentee ballots.

Still, Hood said, people have to be patient — like those she saw waiting in line.

"I talked to one lady as she came out of the polls and she said, 'I'm patriotic. I waited four hours to vote.' "

Loehndorf agreed that voters are patriotic. But, she said, voting shouldn't be a nail-biting endurance contest.

"It's a problem," she said. "And it's hard to say why."

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