tampabay.com

Johnson keeps elections post

Despite problems with the August primary, he beats challenger Robert MacKenna.

By GRAHAM BRINK
Published November 3, 2004


TAMPA - Incumbent Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson beat challenger Robert MacKenna, despite a turbulent election season that included lost votes and slow tallies.

Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Johnson, a Republican, to be Hillsborough's elections supervisor last year when Pam Iorio quit to run for Tampa mayor.

Johnson, 52, a three-term GOP legislator who also directed the Florida Division of Real Estate, was not willing to declare victory, though he had a sizeable lead with three-quarters of the precincts reporting.

"I'm going to keep my head down and hope that the margin stays where it is or grows a little bit," he said.

MacKenna, 33, a computer programmer for Eckerd Corp., campaigned on a platform that included asking the voters to seek safeguards against voter fraud and lost ballots. His campaign slogan was "Make sure your vote counts."

MacKenna, an easy winner in the Democratic primary, said he didn't think service from Johnson was very good. During the campaign, he said he wanted to boost registration to 90 percent of those eligible to vote, and he lobbied heavily for a backup printer for touch screen machines to boost tabulation integrity.

"It was a rewarding experience," he said. "It's really tough to take on an incumbent, especially when you get outspent 2 to 1."

Johnson was a heavy favorite just a few months ago. But during the August primary, Johnson's computer servers ground to a crawl, and tabulation was delayed until 5:10 a.m. the next day.

In the weeks that followed, Johnson revealed that 245 votes cast at the West Gate Regional Library early voting site had never been counted because a voting machine was left in test mode. The missing votes would not have changed the outcome of any primary race.

On the opening day of early voting, Oct. 18, nine libraries housing early voting sites lost their Internet connection when a router in the Washington, D.C., area failed. The voting lines swelled when Johnson's poll workers began using a slower system of verifying data by phone.

As elections boss, Johnson aggressively pursued voter registration, educated future voters by putting voting machines in schools and aided minority participation by translating his web site into Spanish.

Johnson is twice divorced and has three teenage children.

The supervisor oversees an office of 29 full-time employees with an annual budget of $6.5-million. The supervisor serves a four-year term and is paid $119,684 a year.