Board miffed at vote director

Published May 17, 2007

TAMPA - Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson spent part of the last week telling commissioners behind closed doors that a state-mandated shift to new voting machines could cost county taxpayers millions.

But when they summoned Johnson before them Wednesday to ask him publicly whether they should urge Governor Charlie Crist to veto the voting machine bill, Johnson demurred.

"That really frosts my butt, " said Brian Blair, saying after the meeting that Johnson, a fellow Republican, encouraged him to write to Crist.

He suggested during the meeting that Johnson was changing his tune publicly out of fear of angering the Republican governor, who championed creating a paper trail at the voting booth, which the switch would allow.

"We get too much of this kissy, kissy stuff because we're Republicans, " Blair said.

Johnson's face reddened, but Blair was just getting started.

"I thought you were a standup guy, " Blair said, then apologized. "You are a standup guy. But you're not standing up right now."

When Johnson got the chance to respond, he said he already had joined 11 other elections supervisors in counties that employ touch screen voting systems in writing a letter to Crist expressing concerns with the change.

The letter, dated April 16, asks the governor to delay the switch until 2010 to allow the counties time to acquire new machines and train employees and volunteers on how to use them.

As to whether Hillsborough commissioners should oppose the change, Johnson said that was up to them.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to write the letter anyway, without Johnson's endorsement. Mark Sharpe and Ken Hagan were out of the room for the vote.