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Absentee ballot plan criticized

By JOSH ZIMMER
Published October 28, 2004

TAMPA - The primary race ended eight weeks ago, but Republican state House candidate Bill Bunkley is still questioning his razor thin loss to District 47 incumbent Kevin Ambler.

On Wednesday, Bunkley revived another complaint raised earlier during their nasty primary campaign: Did Ambler properly collect requests for absentee ballots and turn them in to the Supervisor of Elections office?

In an e-mail to supporters, Bunkley does not accuse Ambler outright of manipulating the ballots. But citing his relatively poor performance with absentees, he questions if some district Republicans ever received the ballots they requested through Ambler's campaign.

Ambler said Bunkley is waging a smear campaign against him a week before his general election contest against Libertarian Kim Snow.

Ambler said that during the primary his campaign sent out about 10,000 mailings encouraging people to vote early or cast a ballot by absentee. At the bottom was a tearoff sheet addressed to the "Absentee Ballot Request Department" at 601 N. Ashley Dr., suite 610, in Tampa, his campaign headquarters.

When responses came in, Ambler's office forwarded about 400 requests for absentee ballots to the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office.

"We had an aggressive absentee ballot campaign ... and we wanted to get as many people to the polls before the (Bunkley campaign's) attack ads," Ambler said. "One-hundred percent of the ballots we got were turned in."

Absentee ballots were critical to his 130-vote win, the narrowest margin of any Republican house incumbent with an opponent. He actually polled 20 fewer votes than Bunkley on election day.

Bunkley said he was not trying to embarrass Ambler, but said the results were odd considering his own aggressive absentee ballot effort.

The mailer was "highly unusual" because Ambler didn't address the request card to the supervisor of elections, he said.

"It's an appropriate question a week after the election; it's an appropriate question now," he said.

Dan Nolan, chief of staff for the Supervisor of Elections, said voters should deal directly with elections officials through the U.S. Postal Service, and not rely on campaigns to forward their requests.

Common Cause Florida executive director Ben Wilcox agreed, and said such campaign-sponsored efforts can create the potential for abuse.

"I've heard of candidates passing out voter registration forms, or they could even pass out requests for absentee ballots," Wilcox said. "I haven't heard of it going through their headquarters."

Josh Zimmer can be reached at 813 269-5314 or zimmer@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 28, 2004, 00:42:16]

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