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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Will it be sweet or scary at the polls?
By SUE CARLTON
Published December 19, 2007
Ihad the worst dream the other night. Woke up in a cold sweat.
We were all aboard the Titanic and certain disaster loomed just ahead.
But there we were in the ship's ballroom, dancing, drinking, laughing, totally oblivious to this terrible thing that was about to happen.
Now here's the crazy part.
The guy leading the ship's orchestra, smiling confidently all the while?
It was Buddy Johnson, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections.
So speaking of losing sleep, let's talk next year's big election.
Kurt Browning, Secretary of State and the guy responsible for tabulating Florida's vote, sounded a little night-sweaty himself when asked recently about Hillsborough's go-slow approach to making the switch from touch screens to paper ballots.
"It would cause me to lie awake in bed at night with my eyes wide open," Browning told Times reporter Bill Varian.
Now there's a scary statement.
But while most of the 15 counties required to make the switch next year have new vote-counting equipment by now, Hillsborough hasn't put its contract out for bid yet.
The deadline for making the switch is July 1. Which, if you're counting the months on your fingers, doesn't leave a whole lot of time for getting used to the new stuff.
And oh yeah, there's that bad dream that was Florida in the 2000 election.
No worries, Johnson says. All is on schedule.
Johnson, who was first appointed to the job in 2003, sounds real confident about this. He says he's concentrating first on the January presidential preference primary using the equipment he already has. And he plans to have a contract on those new machines going by late February.
All of which would make you feel a little better if you could just forget some of those Johnson headlines of days past, many of which did not bolster public confidence.
In one election, his office didn't count 245 votes in a precinct.
Last year, two polling sites were moved without written notice to the concerned voters beforehand. (One of the polling sites happened to be mine, and trust me, smarter people than me had trouble with that cryptic map we found at our old polling site directing us to the mysterious new one.)
A citizen's group trying to get a county mayor initiative onto the ballot complained that Johnson blew off their requests for an extension. They also said his office incorrectly invalidated petition signatures and outright lost others.
When Johnson eliminated a position that involved outreach to the black community, the woman who lost the job complained of an unhealthy workplace, calling it "the Wizard of Oz over there."
And speaking of exits, another employee was paid $24,000 under what I like to call the loose-lips-sink-ships clause, agreeing to neither sue nor speak of what he saw during his time in that office.
Which sure makes you wonder what was going on in that office.
So are the latest Johnson headlines less bad dream and more Chicken Little going on about the sky falling?
Because nobody wants Florida's role in the 2000 election to be our recurring nightmare next year.