University Of Florida Professor Sees Red Over Absentee Ballot by Amy Reinink

© 2004 by Amy Reinink, The Gainesville Sun

Reproduced under the Fair Use exception of 17 USC § 107 for noncommercial, nonprofit, and educational use.


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Note: It is a long established practice in election fraud to "lose" mailed ballots belonging to members of the opposition party. Black Democrats in Florida have been particularly susceptible to "lost" ballots.

[EJF comments and annotations in Courier font.]

August 21. 2004 — The three letters on the front of the envelope containing Ben Hebblethwaite's absentee ballot screamed at him: DEM.

His party affiliation was marked in clear, if tiny, print on the address label directing the ballot to his Gainesville home.

Hebblethwaite, a professor of Haitian/Creole at the University of Florida, thought about the Gainesville postal worker he'd seen with a photo of President Bush tacked to his post-office cubicle. He thought about the slim margin in the 2000 presidential election and he thought about the statewide problems that year.

And then he panicked.

"If the election hinges on 200 votes, it would be pretty tempting, pretty easy, for a postal worker to slip a thousand ballots in the back of his truck," Hebblethwaite said. "I have a great respect for postal workers, and I believe the large majority do respect our laws and democracy. God forbid such a crime would occur, but this is an invitation to commit a crime." [Mail ballots are handled by many individuals besides postal workers. And often the ballots are bundled by party affiliation. Makes it quite easy to "lose" some.]

State law doesn't prohibit supervisors of elections from putting a voter's party affiliation on mailing materials, and some state and county officials dismissed Hebblethwaite's worry as trivial [A standard tactic by election officials. No one knows anything about elections but them.].

But others said with more people voting with absentee ballots, the supervisor of elections should be careful to a fault to protect absentee voters' privacy. [The basic problem here is that no ballots should be voted by mail if election fraud is to be minimized.]

"While it may not be strictly prohibited under state law, the overall intent of state law is to give the absentee voter the same degree of privacy an in-person voter would have," said Elliot Mincberg, vice president and legal director of People for the American Way, a national liberal advocacy group active in Florida politics. "Other counties have found a way to deal with that. I think to better comply with the spirit of the law, as many counties do, that it's best to not have that information on the outside of the envelope." [The better way to deal with this is to ban absentee/mail ballots in most cases as was done in the past.]

Florida Division of Elections lets each of the 67 county supervisors of elections decide how to best sort their absentee ballots, and using party affiliation is a common practice, according to a spokesman for that agency.


First complaint


Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Beverly Hill said her office's computer system automatically puts a voter's party affiliation on the mailing label for outgoing ballots and also on the return-address label on the envelope carrying it back to her office.

"People get upset about different things during the course of an election, and we understand that," Hill said. "But over 5,000 ballots have gone out now, and he's the only one to complain. His complaint is legitimate, but certainly for now, we'll continue in this election to do that." [Typical reaction of election officials is to stick their heads in the sand and pretend the problem does not exist.]


No change expected


Supervisor of elections staffers said they have used the same procedure in general elections and will likely do so again this November. [And since the problem doesn't exist, there is no need to fix it.]

Chuck Floyd, former chairman of Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee, said a concerned absentee voter could always go to the supervisor's office to vote or mail the ballot back inside another plain envelope.

Hebblethwaite said that doesn't ease his concern about the ballot's trip from the supervisor's office to his mailbox. Also, he said, he wanted to vote absentee in the first place to avoid the inconvenience of a trip downtown on election day — a practice many supervisors of elections are promoting. [And is that because they want to make election fraud easier?]

In addition, said other local officials, it should be just as easy to change the practice in the elections office.

"I don't see the need for us to advertise a person's party affiliation on the outside of the ballot," said Travis Horn, Alachua County Republican Executive Committee chairman. "I would like to think the things this man is worried about don't happen, but I would also like to think there aren't bad people in the world. It seems a little bit naive to approach the issue that way."


Public record


A voter's party affiliation is already public record, Hill said, meaning anyone can provide a specific name to the supervisor of elections, then look at that information on a computer screen.

Hebblethwaite said he understands his name is already public record, but the likelihood of anyone getting it would be remote.

"It would take a very concerted criminal effort to look up all the voter rolls, carry a list around and match all the thousands of strange names to those on absentee ballots," Hebblethwaite said. [Actually, candidates and parties do this on a regular basis for mail campaigns, to walk precincts, identify voting trends, and other efforts to get out the vote and manipulate elections.]


A wider fear


Hebblethwaite's outrage highlights a wider fear that during an election year in Florida, anything can happen, some officials said.

"People got so excited about the problems that the state of Florida experienced in 2000 that there seems to be a degree of almost paranoia about the efficiency of our voting system," Floyd said. "I'm encouraged that people are concerned about the safety of the voting system, but I' d like to re-emphasize that we didn't experience any problems in Alachua County in 2000 and don't anticipate we will in 2004." [But see October 21, 2004, story by of investigation of vote fraud where "Alachua County learned people had their party affiliation changed to Republican against their will. The problem was discovered in a batch of 1,200 forms turned in by one man. Each of the forms registered voters as Republican."]

Hebblethwaite said he senses the paranoia, too. Even more reason to take extra care with even the finest details of policies and procedures, he said.

"Everyone knows Florida is the laughing stock of the United States when it comes to elections," Hebblethwaite said. "The fact that we are perpetuating these kinds of problems so indifferently is very troubling."


Candidates weigh in


Hill, who leaves her post this November, said she would let her successor decide whether to change the practice. Four Democratic candidates compete this month to run against Republican Ernesto Herrera for the spot in November.

Candidate Barbara Sharpe said she would research the issue if elected, but didn't know enough about it to comment now.

Kate Barnes, Pam Carpenter and Doug Hornbeck all said they would work to find a way to keep the party affiliation off the envelopes.

Hebblethwaite said he'll be watching the supervisor's race — and the mail — carefully.

"God help me if that sticker is on there again," Hebblethwaite said. "I'll certainly have to hand-deliver it if that happens."


Amy Reinink can be reached at (352) 374-5088 or



| EJF Home | Where To Find Help | Join the EJF | Comments? | Get EJF newsletter |


| Vote Fraud and Election Issues Book | Table of Contents | Site Map | Index |


| Chapter 5 — Lies, Damn Lies, and Mail In Elections |

| Next — Absentee Votes Worry Officials As November 2, 2004, Nears by Michael Moss |

| Back — Report on the April 7, 2009, mail in election, Colorado Springs, Colorado by Charles E. Corry, Ph.D. |


Last updated 6/14/09