Friday, October 22, 2004


Voter intimidation begins early in Florida

The City of Jacksonville and Duval County are geographically one and the same, and in land area are the largest city and county in Florida. They're the fourth largest in population with 779,000 people.

So when early voting began this past Monday, as mandated by Florida law, you might have expected a number of voting sites to be open for such a large jurisdiction. But you would have been disappointed. Duval County opened one site—the Supervisor of Elections office in downtown Jacksonville. By contrast, Miami-Dade opened 20.

Supervisor of Elections resigns

To get things off to a really good start, the Supervisor of Elections resigned "for health reasons" effective the 18th, the first day of voting. John Stafford, the Supervisor, had suffered a severe heart attack back in March, so no one could doubt his claim of poor health. We're free to doubt, however, any claim of good judgment.

But then, as the Palm-Beach Post wrote of him,

Four years ago, Stafford became the poster-child of minority voter disenfranchisement when his office threw out 27,000 Duval County ballots because of confusing instructions on a punch-card ballot. Forty-two percent of those came from heavily Democratic black neighborhoods.

Since his heart attack, Stafford had scarcely been running the Elections office anyway. That task fell to his assistant supervisor Dick Carlberg. And Carlberg was apparently making the decisions—

Black ministers and others decried Carlberg's decision to open a single early voting site and last week descended on his office but left unappeased after Carlberg, who is white, refused to open additional sites or work to correct voter registration applications that were incomplete.

So Rep. Corrine Brown and Jesse Jackson ended up "carrying signs and singing civil rights songs in protest...." Rep. Brown also called on Gov. Jeb Bush to designate a replacement for Supervisor Stafford immediately, which he did.

The new Supervisor of Elections

Bush appointed Bill Scheu (pronounced "shy") as interim Supervisor of Elections. Scheu is a real-estate attorney whose largest political donation seems to have been to Elizabeth Dole. To his credit there is no record of his donating to the Bushes. On the other hand there is also no record of his ever having donated to a Democrat.

Scheu immediately announced that he would open four additional sites this Saturday. But Black leaders and many others consider that number far from adequate. So today a coalition asked a federal judge "to force Jacksonville to add eight more early-voting sites...." Supervisor Sheu maintains that four additional sites would be impossible at this late date.

Videotaping the voters

It was wonderfully convenient to have only one polling site. It made it so much easier to set up an intimidation campaign.

On Thursday,

the elections office contacted police after Democrats complained about men videotaping people in front of the office all day. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and coalition members confronted them in the evening. But Scheu said the videotaping was allowed on a public sidewalk across the street.

"We're powerless to stop them," Scheu said.

Owner Fred Hillerich of Price Rite Investigations of Jacksonville declined to say who hired his firm to videotape events at the office. But he said he had done the work elsewhere before, and "I ain't doing anything to nobody."

"I'm sure it is, it's intimidation," said the Rev. Willie M. Bolden, a Southern Christian Leadership Conference official who joined others questioning Hillerich. "They're doing all kinds of things across the state."

I don't know if Mr. Hillerich is doing this to intimidate voters, paid for by the Republican party or one of its sympathizers. But if you would like to ask him, here is his contact information—

Phone: (904) 779-9815

And by the way, George Bush and John Edwards are both to be in Jacksonville today.

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