For the second time during Election 2016, the Republican Party of Florida rose to protect the vote in the Sunshine State -- and won.
It was a bang-bang victory over vote-by-mail mishandling that played out Wednesday.
Here's what happened.
After RPOF volunteers in Broward County reported elections officers in the 600,000-strong Democratic county had opened tens of thousands of vote-by-mail ballots before they were cleared for counting, party Chairman Blaise Ingoglia moved quickly.
Appearing on Fox News Wednesday, the chairman told Adam Shapiro, "Florida law prescribes that when the supervisor of elections takes in all these ballots, they have to be approved by the canvassing board." And these were not.
The bottom line is, the officials have no legal authority to open the ballot envelopes.
The issue actually came to light behind the scenes a week ago, after the Republican National Lawyers Association sent Florida Bar-certified attorney David Shestokas from Chicago to watch the election in always-colorful Broward.
On Wednesday Ingoglia told Fox's Shapiro 1) none of the ballots had been approved, 2) he had written a letter to Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda C. Snipes (see letter reproduced below), and 3) the party would file a lawsuit at 9 a.m. ET Thursday if county officials failed to respond to his complaint by close-of-business Wednesday.
Broward officials did respond very much on time, avoiding another day on a witness stand for Snipes, who no doubt has seen enough courtrooms for one election year.
Last week the Broward supervisor was on the witness stand explaining to Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips what corrective steps her office has taken since she left Amendment 2 off "several" ballots -- how many exactly remains a mystery. NORML, a marijuana legalization group, sued Snipes for the error, reminding the court that -- well, yeah, it's important -- because for Amendment 2 to pass, it needs 60 percent of the voters to approve it. On Friday the judge ruled Snipes' restoration plan would suffice.
So, within hours of receiving Ingoglia’s letter, sources told The Miami Herald, Snipes’ office had brokered this two-step compromise:
- Starting Thursday morning, board member Judge John D. Fry will be at the supervisor’s office in person to oversee canvassing of mail-in ballots.
- Both state parties, Republican and Democratic, will also be allowed a representative on hand at at all times as ballots are canvassed.
"I am pleased that Broward County has quickly agreed to take corrective actions in response to the concerns raised in our letter," Ingoglia said in a statement he sent to Sunshine State News late Wednesday. "Florida's voters must have confidence that the election process is fair, open, and transparent. The Republican Party of Florida will continue to monitor the canvassing process to ensure there are no further violations of the law."
I don't know, folks. There has to be something in the supervisor of elections' water in South Florida. Every election cycle, it's something, some kind of screwup. There's never a smooth ride. If it isn't Susan Bucher in Palm Beach County, it's Brenda Snipes in Broward. Some years, heaven help us, it's both.
And we wonder how Donald Trump can amass so many believers with his "rigged elections" rhetoric.
You know how I feel. I blame a lot of it on early voting and the machinery that propels it. If these Democratic supervisors in big, populous blue counties would spend as much time preparing for a smooth election as they do putzing around with party leaders who only want to manipulate early voting, maybe they could step up their game. Run a professional ship. You know, for the sake of the principles they represent, and for the voters. Remember voters?
In fact, the Broward elections process -- canvassing board included -- is so screwed up, they don't get where they went wrong. They're way past recognizing their problems. Read between the lines of the Herald story.
"In four separate visits to the elections headquarters in Lauderhill, attorney Shestokas said he never saw the canvassing board convene or supervise the opening of ballots, even though a public notice published by the elections office suggests the board is meeting daily. ...
"In a secure room inside a warehouse, Shestokas said he watched how elections department staff sorted ballot envelopes, examined signatures and opened ballots. ... In addition to questioning why the canvassing board wasn’t present, Shestokas said he wondered why members of the public couldn’t view mail ballots before they were accepted and opened. Florida law allows the public to challenge ballots they consider invalid."
“Essentially," he said, "they’re opening the ballots in secret.” Shestokas claims he passed along his observations to the RNLA.
I know the Democrats are proud of all they do to protect voters' rights and make sure as many people as possible are properly registered to vote. Certainly they're good at crowing about their accomplishments in that area -- the Republicans, not so much. Yet, the RPOF is taking care of the same kind of business and, frankly, getting little acknowledgement for keeping the voting process honest.
A recent lawsuit filed by Democrats requested a judge allow late unregistered voters the opportunity to vote, as long as they show some kind of I.D. Despite their efforts, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, a liberal appointed by President Obama, denied their motion.
Don't underestimate the effort the RPOF put into opposing the Democrats' request. As RPOF Chair Ingoglia said, "Not only did (Democrats) try to use the courts to circumvent Florida voting laws, they put at risk the integrity of the election process and the autonomy of local canvassing boards."
Florida Republicans should be proud of what happened Wednesday and how their party leaders resolved it.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith