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Ballot irregularities, conspiracies dog FL Democratic chair election

Uncounted votes. A spoiled ballot. A Democrat who signed a proxy vote-form with an X. Conspiracy theories.

Elections just aren't easy in Florida, especially when it comes to Democrats -- even when they vote for their own during the Florida Democratic Party Chair race. At the very least, it's a cautionary tale about how losers cry foul after elections and how voters themselves can be to blame for election problems.

Initially on Saturday, Allison Tant was elected chair Saturday over Alan Clendenin by a vote of 587 to 448.

Turns out, that first tally missed a block of 59 votes cast by Bret Berlin, a Miami-Dade state committeeman.

"They said my ballot was stuck to another person's ballot and it didn't get counted," said Berlin, who voted for Clendenin. "I didn't eat anything in the voting room. My fingers didn't have anything sticky on them."

On a second pass, Berlin's vote was counted. Final tally: 587-507.

A Tant voter, Palm Beach County's John Ramos, didn't have his ballot counted at all. He signed on the wrong line.

"I have cataracts. I don't see so well," Ramos said. "What matters is the outcome."

Some saw conspiracy. Ramos initially pledged his votes to Clendenin. Then he was pressured by party insiders to vote for Tant, the favored of Sen. Bill Nelson and Democratic National Committee chair and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. His ballot was worth 41 votes (the votes are apportioned to give more weight to voters from Democrat-heavy counties).

Consider the irony: The Democratic Party, which had the count-every-vote rallying cry in the disputed 2000 elections, doesn't count a ballot from one of its own in an internal chair race. Rules are rules. And the opponents would have complained. So much for the intent of the voter. Next time Democrats cry disenfranchisement, remember that sometimes it's with justification and sometimes it's not and sometimes they do it to themselves or each other.

Speaking of 2000, Palm Beach was ground zero for irregularities with its infamous butterfly ballot. What's in the water there? Ramos laughed but didn't answer. Incidentally, Miami-Dade had its share of elections shenanigans in 2000, including the Brooks Brothers riot.

But it's not just South Florida.

Controversy surrounded Duval County's Gayle Kendall and her 25 votes for Tant. Recovering from a bad car accident, she couldn't make it Saturday to Lake Mary. She gave her proxy vote to another. But she didn't sign it with her name. She marked it with an X.

FDP spokeswoman Brannon Jordan said the ballot marking was legal, and was witnessed by three others, including a notary. Also, Jordan said, Kendall wasn't in a coma as some Clendenin supporters theorized.

That conspiracy aside, Clendenin supporters secretly grumbled that there were irregularities with ballots from Sarasota and Leon counties. The Leon matter was taken up Saturday morning and ultimately concerned whether former state committeewoman Alma Gonzalez could vote as committeewoman. A Clendenin supporter, she still called herself state committeewoman and claims she lost her election in December because 13 ineligible people cast ballots in Leon to put Tabitha Frazier in her old spot.

In the end, Frazier prevailed and voted as Leon state committeewoman. The Sarasota matter was never taken up.

Right after the election, Clendenin graciously hailed Tant as the winner. Some of his supporters, though, seem a little more sore.

Regardless, it's just another sign that even a Democratic Party chair election can get screwed up in Florida.