Investigators, election workers sort for illegal absentee ballotsgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Current News - Homefront Preparations : One Thread
By David Damron | Sentinel Staff Writer Posted November 2, 2002
Election workers donned plastic gloves Friday and separated out absentee ballots arriving from voters in state Senate District 19 so investigators can dust envelopes for fingerprints in a search for illegally cast ballots.
Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar has received dozens of complaints that an organized effort directed at Hispanics is under way to illegally obtain absentee ballots and cast them in the upcoming election.
The initial investigation points to various schemes centered on using the names, addresses or voting documents of unsuspecting Hispanic voters in order to secure an absentee ballot, officials said.
Lamar sent a group of investigators to watch as Orange County Elections Supervisor Bill Cowles started opening absentee ballot envelopes that have already arrived at his office.
State law allows election officials to begin tabulating absentee ballots before Election Day to avoid a counting crush.
According to a Democratic Party official observing the process, of the roughly 15,000 absentee ballots that have arrived, fewer than a dozen were set aside to be looked at by the canvassing board, which is set to meet Monday afternoon.
More than 43,000 absentees have been requested in Orange, and a fear is that a load of illegal ballots will be dropped off at election offices at the last moment.
The handful of absentees singled out Friday raised flags because the signatures on the envelopes may have not matched the handwriting on registration records, said Orange County Democratic Party Chairman Doug Head.
Cowles said the District 19 race between Democrat Gary Siplin and Republican Tony Suarez was singled out because "that's where the questions are coming from."
If there are no problems with the red-flagged ballots, they will be counted with the rest, Cowles said.
Separating the District 19 absentees delayed election workers more than four hours Friday.
Randy Means, spokesman for the state attorney's office, said Friday he would not confirm which race or candidate is being examined because it could compromise the probe.
Siplin and Tony Suarez, the front-running candidates in the three-person race, have denied being involved in any attempt to illegally acquire absentee ballots.
Both said they were unaware of any attempt to taint the election.
Beulah Farquharson, the third candidate, could not be reached to comment.
-- Anonymous, November 03, 2002