MIAMI - U.S. Postal Service investigators on
Wednesday were trying to find thousands of absentee ballots
that should have been delivered to voters in one of Florida's
most populous counties, officials said.
The issue evoked memories of the polling problems that
bedeviled the Florida election in 2000 and which the state has
been trying to address before next Tuesday's presidential
election, which is again expected to be a very tight race.
Broward deputy supervisor of elections Gisela Salas said
60,000 absentee ballots, accounting for just over 5 percent of
the electorate in the county north of Miami, were sent out
between Oct. 7 and Oct. 8 to voters who would not be in town on
While some had begun to be delivered, her office had been
inundated with calls from anxious voters who still had not
received their ballots.
"It's really inexplicable at this point in time and the
matter is under investigation by law enforcement," Salas told
"It was basically our first major drop of the absentee
ballots," Salas said. She said postal service officials had
assured Broward elections supervisor Brenda Snipes that the
ballots had moved out of the post office to which they had been
taken by the elections office.
U.S. Postal Service Inspector Del Alvarez, whose federal
agency is independent from the U.S. Postal Service, said it had
yet to be determined if the ballots reached the post office.
"It's highly unlikely that 58,000 pieces of mail just
disappeared," he said. "We're looking for it, we're trying to
find it if in fact it was ever delivered to the postal
In 2000 the race in Florida, on which the national
presidential contest ultimately depended, was so close it
prompted five weeks of lawsuits and recounts.
The U.S. Supreme Court eventually halted the recounts,
handing President Bush a 537-vote victory in Florida and the
White House, and infuriating Democrats who insist their
candidate Al Gore won the popular vote in the state.
The punch card ballots that were at the heart of the
disputed 2000 election have been replaced by touchscreen voting
machines in 15 of Florida's 67 counties, and just over half the
state electorate will use them. The other counties will use
optical scanning machines to read paper ballots.
But poll watchers still fear another legal maelstrom if the
race in Florida, or any other critical swing state, is close
and there are suspicions that some voters were denied a ballot.
Salas said the missing absentee ballot forms did not yet
represent a major election problem because people had the
option of voting early before next Tuesday, when Bush is being
challenged by Democratic Sen. John Kerry.
Poll workers will be able to cross-check through lap top
computers hooked up to a central database whether voters had
already sent in absentee ballots. On election day itself, those
who requested absentee ballots will only be able to vote in
person if they bring the blank absentee forms with them.
"A lot of people are very concerned because they think that
just because they requested an absentee ballot, now they're
stuck in a limbo situation where they don't have their ballot
and they can't vote," Salas said.
"So most definitely we want to get the message out that yes
they can go to an early voting site and cast their ballot and
that's what we would encourage them to do," she said.
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