Bogus calls target area Democrats
Calls similar to others heard across the country
Published November 02. 2004 7:30AM
BY JOE BYRNES
Chief Local News Editor
OCALA — At least a few Marion and Lake county residents received telephone calls Monday directing them to the wrong polling places today.
The calls targeting Democrats appear to be a local version of the false claims delivered by telephone showing up around the nation during a hotly contested presidential race.
Delphine Herbert, a Democratic poll watcher and Marco Polo resident, still had the misleading telephone call she received on her answering service.
The message urged her not to be taken in by "dirty tricks" designed to keep her from voting and send her to the wrong polling place. Ironically, the message did just that: It directed her to the wrong place to vote.
At the end, the message said, "Vote Democratic. This call paid for by the Democratic National Committee." Adrian Durbin, a Democratic Party spokesman in Florida, gave an emphatic "No" when asked if the calls were in fact from his side.
Herbert won't be misled by the message — she's already voted. Today, she'll be watching a polling place in Citra.
Lake County Supervisor of Elections Emogene Stegall said Democratic voters in Lake County have been receiving the calls, too.
At about 4:15 p.m., her office started hearing from voters, including Democratic poll workers, that callers were redirecting them to the wrong place. Within 10 minutes, her staff had four complaints from voters.
"So we called the Sheriff's Department and reported it," Stegall said. "And they are working on it."
Stegall, who has worked at the Lake County Supervisor of Elections Office for 50 years, said she's never seen tactics like this.
"It makes me wonder if it's local people or if it's someone shipped in here do this," she said.
Villages of Marion resident and Villages Democratic Club member Whitney Diggett was on his way back home Monday from Ocala, where he voted early, when he got a call from a woman on his cell phone automatically forwarded from home.
"She said, in essence, the other side is using some trickery or skullduggery and trying to disrupt the voting by making calls sending (people) to the wrong precinct," Diggett said. Then the woman proceeded to direct him to the wrong polling place.
He knew better and set her straight, Diggett said. And the woman got off the line.
Diggett said he checked the incoming calls on his cell phone, and the call had registered as a series of zeroes.
The Associated Press reported bogus calls in other parts of the country, as well. In Las Vegas, voters likewise received calls telling them their polling places had changed.
GOP officials have been getting reports that a person claiming to represent President Bush has been calling people and spilling a string of swear words. Another phone call allegedly tells people that they've been drafted because Bush needs them for the war in Iraq.
In Michigan and New Jersey, Democrats complain that calls have claimed Sen. John Kerry would make gay marriage legal and that a contrived message — erroneously purporting to be from retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf — is an underhanded effort to make the DNC look like liars.
Joe Byrnes can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 867-4112.