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‘Black Votes Matter’ slate card without disclaimer upsets some Hillsborough County candidates

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

It’s certainly not the first slate card making the rounds since early voting began, but a “Black Votes Matter” handout that does not include a disclaimer regarding who paid for it has upset some Hillsborough County candidates on Election Day.

This reporter picked up the slate card while visiting voting precinct No. 305 at the New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Columbus Avenue in East Tampa. The card was handed out by a woman wearing a Dianne Hart T-shirt. Hart is a candidate for the House District 61 seat in Hillsborough County, where she’s running against Sean Shaw and Walter Smith. 

When contacted, Hart acknowledged that she had received copies of the flier that were made available on Monday at the College Hill Library, but said she has no idea who produced them.

“My name is on it and I used it with my people this morning. But I have not made any slate cards. I don’t even know how to begin to make a slate card,” Hart said.

In addition to the card listing Hart as the choice in HD 61, the card calls on voters to support either Patrick Murphy or Pam Keith for U.S. Senate, Ed Narain or Betty Reed for the Senate District 19 seat, Pat Frank for Clerk of the Courts, Cindy Stuart, Tarance LeNoir, and Alan Clendenin for school board, as well as three judicial candidates.

Tom Alte, a spokesman for Sean Shaw, downplayed the flier, saying, “We have no concerns about it … we’ve communicated Sean’s message, and told the voters why he’s the right choice, and a last-minute, illegally produced flier is not going to change that.”

Other candidates weren’t so dismissive.

“It’s unfortunate that candidates become so desperate that they would do anything to win an election, including breaking the law,” said Kevin Beckner, who is running against Frank in the spirited clerk of the courts race.

“Pat Frank enjoys widespread support among black voters because she has been with them for decades. She follows campaign laws scrupulously,” said Ian Whitney, spokesman for Frank. “The Frank campaign did not ask and was not asked to be included on any slate card. We are working hard today to turn out supporters and have our volunteers working all over Hillsborough County to re-elect Pat Frank.”

“I wish people would follow the law,” complained Barry Edwards, campaign manager for Darryl Rouson, who is running in the SD 19 contest. “Election law regarding disclaimers is clearly spelled out regarding who is supporting who, and it’s disappointing when people at the last minute get desperate and want to skirt and violate the law. And that is why people lose faith in the electoral system.”

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 The failure of a candidate to prominently mark all political advertisements with a proper political disclaimer is a violation of Florida election law.

Hart says she has seen several such slate cards being distributed at early voting sites in East Tampa over the past two weeks, some not backing her, but choose not to complain about it. “I don’t care how many slate cards they passed out. Because at the end of the day, it comes down to the voters in this community. No matter what somebody gives somebody, doesn’t mean they vote from that.”

Voters have until 7 p.m. to cast a vote.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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