Last night in North Tampa, Republican Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson met in a forum with the 2 Democrats -Rob McKenna and Steve Henley, who are trying to unseat him this November.

The Forum was sponsored by the Democratic 537 Club and monitored WMNF's Rob Lorei. It delved into 2 of the biggest issues facing Florida Supervisors of Election and their challengers this year - the concern about the lack of a paper trail for the electronic voting machines that will be used in Hillsborough County later this year, and on the issue of removing felons from the voting rolls

In 2000, thousands of Floridians were INCorrectly taken off the rolls - mainly due to a poor database system from an out of state company....This year, the State is providing the local supervisors with a list of suspected felons..But there are still concerns...

Hillsborough County's Buddy Johnson - who is responsible for ferreting out and scrutinizing the list of convicted felons from Tallahassee - says in each possible case, if in doubt, he will err in favor of the voter (roll tape#1 o.q."period...")

Democrat Rob McKenna read from a recent report that said in nearly half of Florida's 67 counties, voters wrongly taken off the voting rolls in 2000 STILL had not had their voting rights restored..and he's not confident about how the state is approaching this issue this year........(roll tape#2 o.q. applause")

Democrat Steve Henley also said he wasn't confident that all eligible voters will be able to vote this year (roll tape#3 o.q."is removed from the list")

The whole controversy about the felon list would be wiped away if the State of Florida opted out of the law that demands that ex-felons work to restore their civil rights thru an onerous process, as opposed to being automatically granted their franchise right once they have paid their debt to society.

When asked whether they would like to see the state get rid of such rules, all 3 candidates agreed that it's not in their purview to craft such a policy.....

But perhaps the roiling issue leading into the elections in Florida, and every other state in the country that is using Electronic Voting Machines - is whether they can be illicitly manipulated, and because of that doubt, the need for some type of paper receipt, verifying one's vote.

Hillsborough County's Buddy Johnson has fervently been telling everybody who asks that he is confident that the system he has in place with his machines, supplied by Sequoia - Not diebold, the more controversial electronic machine company - will work fine this August and November. (roll tape#4 o.q."key point of this debate")

On Sunday, the New York Times' lead editorial, entitled, "Who Tests Voting Machines?" wrote about a 'stunning lack of transparency surrounding the testing process of electronic voting machines.

Buddy Johnson referenced that editorial, and said that his staff conducts a Logic and Accuracy Test for the public's benefit.....He said the next such test will take place on

On August 13th at 9AM,

Johnson's would be challengers are critical of the technology......Democrat Rob McKenna says everytime electronic voting machines are used in recent elections, there are problems (roll tape#5 o.q."malfunction so badly")

Democrat Steve Henley acknowledges that touch screen voting is an improvement over

Punch card balloting, but he says that a verifiable paper trail is still what is needed to ensure the fairness at the ballot box (roll tape#6 o.q."backup systems')

Although the candidates are all running as either Republicans OR Democrats, they all agreed that the job of the Supervisor of elections could easily be a NON-Partisan position, but acknowledged they had no influence on making that so....

And thanks to Grace Santos for helping in the production of this story...

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