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Judge bars signs explaining candidate switch

Polls can't post signs saying votes for disgraced ex-Rep. Mark Foley will count for Joe Negron.

By JENNIFER LIBERTO
Published October 19, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - A Leon County circuit judge agreed with Democrats on Wednesday that state law prohibits election supervisors from posting signs at polling places that say a vote for disgraced former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley is really a vote for his Republican replacement.

Circuit Judge Janet Ferris issued an order blocking the use of the signs, which seven of eight elections supervisors had said they would post in polling places to inform voters that state Rep. Joe Negron of Stuart is the real Republican candidate, running against Democrat Tim Mahoney of Palm Beach Gardens.

Despite Foley's resignation more than two weeks ago amid accusations that he sent lurid e-mails to congressional pages, his name is stuck on the ballot.

Both Negron and Secretary of State Sue Cobb plan to appeal.

"The department believes that educating the voters is paramount, especially when there's last-minute changes to the ballot," said Cobb spokeswoman Jenny Nash. "It's a common sense approach, and the department believes it should be as transparent as possible."

Ferris wrote that the Legislature hasn't authorized the use of such notices, and allowing them might invite other intrusions at polling places.

"It is also a slippery slope, calling into question the logical boundaries of the (supervisors') efforts to 'inform' voters," Ferris wrote.

University of Florida legal professor Jon Mills said the ruling is a strict and logical interpretation of statutes.

"It doesn't say you can do it, so you can't," said Mills, who directs the college's Center for Governmental Responsibility and was the Democratic House speaker in the late 1980s.

Asked earlier Wednesday about the case, before Ferris ruled, Gov. Jeb Bush said the secretary of state has the authority to provide "information to guide someone on how to vote to give them the simple fact there is going to be an election where by law Mark Foley is on the ballot but he's not running; Joe Negron is."

Bush said allowing such signs at polling places should be the new precedent in future, similar cases.

Negron's campaign declared Ferris' ruling a loss for voters and Mahoney's campaign called it a victory for voters.