Election Office Denying New Voters

The Supervisor of Elections Office has been falsely telling newly registered voters with clerical errors involving their drivers licenses that they aren't allowed to vote in the presidential election.

It's some of the first negative fallout from the controversial "No match, no vote" law passed by the Republican Florida Legislature in 2005.

One voter turned away is a freelancer for New Times, Penn Bullock. Bullock is a new Florida resident who beat the October 6 deadline to register -- and he's one of 12,000 new voters in Florida who have been snagged up by the No Match law, which is officially known as the Florida Voter Verification Law. The law requires that the voter's driver license or Social Security number on the registration match up with those on state databases. Democratic activists have complained about the law, saying it is subject to errors of both the clerical and technical kind. Others have said it's downright unconstitutional.

On October 16, Penn received a form letter from SOE Brenda Snipes informing him that her office was unable to verify his D/L.

"To become an active voter you will need to provide this office with a copy of your Florida driver's license," the letter informed him.

This morning, Bullock made a trip to the supervisor's office in the downtown governmental center. There, a clerk told him that since he hadn't fixed the problem by October 6 -- when the books were closed on new registrations -- he couldn't vote in this election.

He left the office in a dejected fashion, but returned later in the day. I witnessed it this time. A clerk told him that since he was a first-time voter and the October 6 deadline had passed, his unverified registration was "considered null."

Bullock held his ground this time and produced a copy of the letter. The clerk then went to consult with a superior and, voila, he was told the problem had been cleared up and he could vote after all.

About ten minutes later, I questioned another clerk (the one who had originally denied Bullock), telling her I knew a newly registered voter who had a discrepancy in his registration that needed to be cleared up.

"Oh, it's too late to vote in the coming election, the books are closed," she told me. "He can vote in the next election, though."

I asked her how many people she had turned away who were in a similar situation. "I don't know," she said. "But I feel really bad to turn people away. We don't have a choice."

I asked to speak with her supervisor and she brought veteran elections office official Mary Cooney over, who basically denied that anybody had been turned away and tried to persuade me that the problem was caused by a miscommunication of some kind.

Well, there was no miscommunication, not with Bullock and not with me. The clerks were giving out false information -- vote-denying information -- and there's no telling how many people walked out like Bullock believing they'd lost their vote.

One good tip that Cooney gives is that no matter what happens in the supervisor's office, all voters should make their way to the polls, where at the very least they can get a provisional ballot.

It's not ideal -- elections supervisors are worried about getting deluged with provisional ballots -- but it's better than getting the shaft.


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