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Bush cautions against intimidation of voters

Associated Press
Published October 25, 2004

ORLANDO - Gov. Jeb Bush is advising state elections officials to remove people who intimidate voters at early voting sites, after Orange County's elections supervisor complained of harassment at the polls from campaign solicitors, observers and members of the media.

Bush, in a letter sent Sunday to Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles, said he was disturbed by the complaints, adding any harassing behavior should not be tolerated under Florida's election laws.

While noting there are no formal restrictions on soliciting and observers in Florida's early voting provisions, he encouraged the state's 67 Florida election supervisors to preserve order by directing observers, solicitors and the media into special locations where they would not interfere with rights of electors.

"Now that the Legislature has officially sanctioned early voting in person, every day is "Election Day,' and it is imperative that all persons obey the standards of behavior normally expected at polling places," Bush wrote.

Cowles reported to Bush that his office has been "bombarded" with complaints of harassment at early voting places, mainly at Orange County's eight library sites.

Cowles wrote that solicitors and observers were "creating havoc" with voters and employees, while media representatives were a problem by insisting on being in the room where voters mark their ballots. The letter said observers were obstructing employees from helping voters.

He also said he may be forced to close down the eight library sites and move all early voting to the main office.

Early voting began Oct. 18 in Florida.

Officials in Duval County opened four early voting sites over the weekend at the urging of local and national activists.

More than 2,500 people voted over the weekend in Duval County, which includes Jacksonville.

In Leon County, which includes Tallahassee, turnout was boosted Sunday by a Democratic rally featuring former Vice President Al Gore at the courthouse, the county's only early voting site. Besides the boost from Gore's rally, turnout was increased by black churches busing voters to the courthouse.

A line stretched out the door and around the building before, and Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho said it was the heaviest voting day yet with more than 1,300 voters in a couple of hours.

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