Sample ballot mailed with Rudy boo-boo

Hillsborough elections chief apologizes.

By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 9, 2008

TAMPA - Rudy Giuliani is pinning his presidential hopes on Florida, but he clearly needs to work on his name recognition among Hillsborough County elections officials.

A sample ballot mailed recently to 208,200 registered Republicans by Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson lists Giuliani - running as a tough-guy former prosecutor and enemy of terrorists - as "Rudi." His name appears the same way on both English and Spanish language versions of the ballot.

Johnson, also a Republican, said a member of his staff failed to catch the typo before it was sent to a print shop. He said the employee will be "disciplined appropriately" once he gets all the facts.

"This is a mistake and I'm taking full credit for it," Johnson said. "I apologized to Rudy Giuliani's team in Hillsborough County and I apologize to the voters for this error."

Johnson is exploring whether to mail out a corrected - though smaller - version of the sample ballot at a cost of about $40,000.

County Commissioner Rose Ferlita, who is chairwoman of Giuliani's Hillsborough campaign, said she appreciates Johnson's dilemma - whether to spend another $40,000 in tax dollars or leave the error uncorrected. Nevertheless, she said it is one of his making.

"I don't know what happened with him internally," Ferlita said. "But he's the one who has to take the credit or the blame. I'm not happy. Would I be happy if I were (former New York City) Mayor Rudy Giuliani? Absolutely not."

An attempt to reach a representative of Giuliani's national campaign was unsuccessful.

The sample ballot, mailed for educational purposes, is not used for actual voting. Johnson said the candidate's name appears correctly on absentee ballots. It also appears correctly on his office's Web site.

Johnson said Giuliani's first name was spelled correctly when submitted to a private design firm, Tampa-based Partnership Marketing. And it was also correct on an initial proof of the mailer.

But a final version of the mailer sent to Nebraska Printing in Tampa contained the error. Johnson said the mistake should have been caught by his outreach coordinator, Rich Cervetti, and said the printer was blameless.

"My guy was at the printer and missed it," Johnson said.

The president of Partnership Marketing could not be reached for comment.

Johnson noted that mailing sample ballots to potential voters is not required and is done as a public service. Correct sample ballots will appear in newspaper advertisements and be available at early voting sites, he said.

Answering such questions is not a first for Johnson. His office has come under scrutiny several times for its handling of details, including failing to count 245 votes in 2004 and moving a precinct without notifying its voters last year.

Last month, Secretary of State Kurt Browning expressed alarm that Johnson's office had not yet gone out to bid for new voting machines required for use in August. Johnson said his delay, in part, stemmed from his desire to ensure the January vote goes smoothly.

His office has since requested bids for new machines, with proposals due later this month.

A spokesman for the Department of State said his agency has no oversight role in the preparation of ballots or sample ballots.

"The supervisor is charged with the responsibility of laying out their ballots and printing their ballots," Sterling Ivey said. "There's nothing we can do."

Staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.