Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Elections Chief Stafford Back in Hospital; Concern Increases as Voting Nears

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Elections Chief Stafford Back in Hospital; Concern Increases as Voting Nears

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID DECAMP, The Times-Union

Duval County elections chief John Stafford has been hospitalized again, raising more concern about the handling of this year's highly scrutinized voting.

Stafford, however, said Wednesday he hopes to be back by July after missing work since mid-March because of a heart attack, a 36-hour coma and surgery. He was readmitted Friday for dizziness and low blood pressure, ending several weeks of physical rehabilitation.

Doctors have set no release date, although they say he will have a full recovery, Stafford said during an interview at Memorial Hospital.

"I look forward to getting back. I miss it. There were two or three weeks there where I wasn't concerned about anything but living," said Stafford, who spent 10 days in intensive care.

The primary election is Aug. 31, and the general election is Nov. 2. Assistant elections supervisor Dick Carlberg is running the Supervisor of Elections office in his absence and talks daily with Stafford.

"It's not like I've been in a vegetative state," Stafford, 58, said.

Henry Thomas, chairman of the local Election Advisory Panel set up in the aftermath of the 2000 voting problems, said Stafford's absence is a concern. But the elections office has improved since 2000, easing the difficulty, said Thomas, a political science and public administration professor at the University of North Florida.

"I think there's still going to be decisions that have to be made on the upcoming election. It would be ideal if he was at full strength at that time," Thomas said. "And it's not clear he will be."

This year's election promises to be among the closest watched presidential races, more so in Florida, a battleground state. Already, Democrats and interest groups are questioning how Stafford and other elections officials will handle the removal of felons from voter rolls -- a controversial process in 2000. Local Democrats criticized Stafford, a Republican, in February for filing proposed polling place changes on the cusp of the state deadline. …

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