At least five Florida residents serving at a U.S. Air Force base in England received two absentee ballots for this year's hotly contested presidential race, a civilian Department of Defense employee told Salon. Elaine Gatley, 48, a civil service executive secretary stationed at RAF Mildenhall in southeastern England, said Thursday that she and four fellow Floridians who work in her office received two ballots in the mail from the state of Florida.
"At first I thought it was just a fluke," Gatley said. "But when I went to work the next day, I talked to my friends and they said, 'Yeah, I received two also.'"
Gatley, a registered Democrat, completed and returned only one of the ballots she received. But she said that at least three of her fellow Floridians, all of whom are registered Republican, told her that they filled out and returned the second ballots as well.
"These people thought there was something wrong with the original ballot," said Gatley, who is married to an Air Force serviceman. "They just sent the second ballot in, thinking maybe something was wrong."
The duplicate ballots were mailed from election offices in at least three Florida counties -- Santa Rosa, Osceola and Hillsborough -- according to Gatley. The multiple ballots were sent to registered Democrats, as well as Republicans, she said.
"But the majority of overseas military people are Republicans," added Gatley. "It's usually the spouses, you know, the civilians, who are Democrats."
One of Gatley's Republican co-workers at the Air Force base confirmed to Salon that she had received two ballots from Florida. She requested that her name not be used.
According to Gatley, the majority of the base's staff comes from Florida. Gatley was formerly employed at Eglin Air Force Base near Navarre, Fla.
No one from other states with whom she spoke at Milden received more than one absentee ballot, said Gatley.
According to a Florida Elections Board official, it's common for counties to send out sample ballots before mailing the official absentee ballot. The sample should be clearly labeled, said the official, who requested anonymity.
The official also said that if someone sends in two ballots, election officials simply void one of them, not both.
But told of this comment, Gatley said she could discern no difference between the two ballots she received, nor could her co-workers. She said neither ballot was clearly marked as a sample.
Absentee ballots are still being counted in the controversial Florida race. Officials say the final absentee tally might not be completed for another eight or nine days. With George W. Bush clinging to a razor-thin lead in the Florida recount, the absentee-ballot tabulation has taken on critical importance.