Foley saga spurs ballot fight

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    Stephanie Diamond Member Supporting Member

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    Posted on Thu, Oct. 05, 2006email thisprint this
    CAMPAIGN 2006 | MARK FOLEY FALLOUT

    The state has asked election supervisors to remind voters that a vote for Mark Foley is really a vote for replacement GOP candidate Joe Negron. Not so fast, Democrats say.
    BY BETH REINHARD

    In an escalating conflict tinged by the 2000 presidential election, the Florida Democratic Party is accusing state election officials of playing favorites in the nationally watched contest to replace former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley.

    The GOP tapped state Rep. Joe Negron to run in Foley's place after the congressman's lurid computer messages to teenage boys became public and he resigned. But under Florida law, Foley's name will still appear on the ballot.

    The state is recommending that election supervisors in the eight counties constituting Foley's district send notices to absentee voters and post signs in every voting booth that say, ``Any vote cast for Mark Foley (REP) shall be counted as a vote for Joe Negron (REP).''

    Negron -- a little-known lawmaker from Stuart tasked with holding on to a scandal-plagued Republican seat at a time when Congress could change hands -- said the state's recommendation would ensure a fair contest between him and Democrat Tim Mahoney.

    But in a letter Wednesday to the state Division of Elections, Karen Thurman, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, said the notice ``would clearly constitute favoritism.

    ''In fact, any ballot sent to a voter with this statement should be deemed invalid,'' Thurman said in the letter, addressed to state elections chief Dawn Roberts.

    Some election supervisors are also questioning the state's recommendation, saying they are wary of appearing to promote one candidate over another. Voters booted former Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore out of office in a backlash against her ''butterfly ballot'' in 2000.

    ''I definitely think we feel a little sensitive,'' said Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections Mac Horton, noting that the law forbids any campaign literature within 100 feet of the polls. ``We don't want to do anything that will bring the election in our county under attack.''

    The 16th congressional district includes parts of Palm Beach and Charlotte counties, and most or all of Martin, St. Lucie, Hendry, Glades, Highlands and Okeechobee counties. Of the eight election supervisors, Horton said only two are Republicans: he and Vicki Davis of Martin County.

    The recommendation from the state is just that: a recommendation. It is not an order.

    ''There's nothing in the law that says a supervisor has to post a notice or doesn't have to post a notice,'' said Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the Florida secretary of state. ``It's really going to be up to local supervisors of elections.''

    The Democrat elected to replace LePore in Palm Beach County, Arthur Anderson, said Wednesday that he would not post notices because they would appear to promote Negron's candidacy. But later in the day, after receiving the state's recommendation, he said he was reassessing the matter.

    ''It's a potential litigious situation,'' Anderson said. ``It's not a simple matter.''

    Election chiefs are seeking advice from the Tallahassee attorney for their statewide association, Ron Labasky. He said he thinks the law does not allow election supervisors to send notices with absentee ballots.

    A decision about alerting absentee voters must be made immediately, because many of the 17,000 ballots requested have already been sent out. Labasky said a review of state law ``would lead me to conclude that including any notices in those absentee ballots is not what is contemplated by the statute.''

    He added: ``Now that the Democratic Party has seen the memorandum, we ought to be in court in a matter of days anyway.''

    The campaign for Negron's Democratic opponent, Mahoney, issued a statement Wednesday evening saying the state should insure that voters in the eight counties are all treated the same.

    ''We certainly expect the state of Florida to require uniform voting procedures throughout Florida's 16th District,'' said Mahoney spokeswoman Jessica Santillo.

    Meanwhile, Negron opened his campaign office in Stuart with less than five weeks before Election Day. Negron argued that the state's recommendation to election supervisors made sense.

    ''I think it is a very fair to make sure voters are fully informed about the candidates before they vote,'' Negron said. ``The notice is not a statement of support.''
    http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/state/15681262.htm
     

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