FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – With voters jamming phone lines saying they haven't received absentee ballots in the mail, elections officials planned to mail out thousands of replacement ballots.
As election workers and the U.S. Postal Service traded the blame Wednesday, Broward County elections supervisor Brenda Snipes (search) moved to solve the problem with less than a week left before the presidential election by sending duplicates to people who had not returned the original ballot.
Attention focused on a batch of 58,000 Broward ballots given to the Postal Service on Oct. 7-8. Though some voters have completedy absentee ballots were affected.
"This isn't a blame game," Snipes told The Miami Herald. "What we're concentrating on is getting the ballots to the voter." She was named to the job by Gov. Jeb Bush (search) after the 2000 elections supervisor quit during the bitter presidential vote recount and her replacement was suspended for bungling.
Snipes estimated she would resend no more than 20,000 ballots, but about 76,000 ballots sent by her office have not been returned. Overnight mail was to be used to send new ballots to voters living outside the county, such as college students.
Because of the volume of calls, Broward County commissioners assigned 40 new workers to phone duty at the election office and early voting sites, where voters have been routinely waiting in line up to two hours to reach touch-screen voting machines.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it investigated the questions about the Oct. 7-8 mailings and found no criminal violations. Enola C. Rice, a Postal Service spokeswoman in South Florida, said absentee ballots are handled separately from other mail and are processed and delivered immediately.
People who requested absentee ballots can always vote early or on Election Day, officials said. If a voter who asked for a ballot shows up at the polls, the absentee form is flagged so only one vote counts.
In Palm Beach County, Democratic lawmakers Wednesday called on elections supervisor Theresa LePore to take out newspaper ads informing voters of their options if they do not receive an absentee ballot. U.S. Reps. Robert Wexler and Alcee Hastings, along with state Sen. Ron Klein and Mayor Lois Frankel, said they have been inundated with calls from voters who are confused about the process or who have not received their absentee ballots.
They said the ads should tell voters that they can vote early at polling places across the county.
LePore's office has received a record number of requests for absentee ballots and had mailed more than 128,000 ballots by early this week. She said an additional 7,000 go out each day.
"I have no control over the post office," LePore said.
Tony Fransetta, president of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, said the delays could put thousands of seniors' votes in jeopardy.
Many older Americans rely on absentee ballots because are disabled or unable to drive to the polls, he said.
Retirees Stanley and Fran Peck of Boynton Beach said they requested absentee ballots in May but never received them. They voted early because they will be traveling on Election Day.
"With all that happened in 2000, we have no way of ever knowing if our ballot will be counted," said Peck, who waited in line for more than an hour to vote despite his doubts.