Anyone who thinks the mail-in-ballot fiasco in Broward County is over either isn't looking hard enough or doesn't want to know.
Nearly 180,000 mail-in votes cast have not been legally counted. Look for this to end up in court.
It's a story that came to light last Wednesday when Republican Party of Florida officials -- specifically RPOF Chairmain Blaise Ingoglia -- alleged the office of Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes was opening thousands of absentee ballots before they were approved by the Broward County canvassing board.
Ingoglia fired off a letter to Snipes threatening a lawsuit, saying "... illegal conduct ... threatens irreparable harm to the Republican Party of Florida and its voters. Your actions are also contrary to the public's interest in a fair, open and transparent process that ensures every person entitled to vote has the opportunity to cast a ballot and have that ballot counted properly."
Ingoglia challenged Snipes to respond by 4 p.m. Wednesday, which she did, spelling out corrective action.
The Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA) sees Snipes' "corrective action" as meaningless, nothing is corrected, and lawyers are "disappointed" RPOF didn't first file an injunction and then a lawsuit.
The law on vote-by-mail ballots is specific: The supervisor shall keep the ballots safely in her office until the canvassing board meets and the ballots are canvassed.
The question is, when did the Broward County canvassing board meet? We know it wasn't Oct. 24 when a meeting was scheduled. When was it? Nobody in Brenda Snipes' office knows or can say, or even if such a phantom meeting was properly noticed.
No canvassing board meeting, no canvassing of ballots can take place.
If there was another meeting before votes were touched, there would have been minutes. The Supervisor of Elections Office thinks there are minutes -- "there must be somewhere" -- but no one we talked to could produce them, say who has them or point to anyone but Snipes who might know. We were unable to reach Snipes herself Monday.
Over the last two weeks the RNLA has sent lawyers to heavily Democratic counties in Florida to observe the ballot counting process and vouch each was following the letter of the law.
The RNLA specifically sent attorney David Shestokas to Broward County, with the most heavily Democratic population in Florida.
He has the area of expertise the RNLA was looking for. Shestokas was admitted to practicing law before the Illinois Supreme Court in 1987, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in 1988, the Supreme Court of Florida in 2004, and the United States Distrisct Court for the Middle District of Florida in 2006. Shestokas also served as assistant state attorney for the Cook County State Attorney’s Office in Chicago -- which has a rich history of fraudulent voting.
Shestokas was heard across the Florida Radio Network last week, where he reported live that 180,000 mail-in ballots cast had not been legally counted, that ballots were being opened before they had been approved by the canvassing board.
Ballot boxes were left unattended. Shestokas says on several occassions he witnessed people dropping off ballots to boxes no one except himself was watching.
“This is a very unusual set up, where somebody can stop by, say they are dropping off ballots for their 'neighbors' at a ballot box, and no official on hand -- to say nothing of the fact that the whole thing was going on without the approval of the canvassing board.
Again -- because the board hasn't met.
Consider it for a moment: 67 counties in Florida and 66 canvassing boards have met. Only Broward's has not.
By law, Shestokas points out, there's supposed to be a public notice every day. That hasn't happened either. "Very strange."
In an email to Sunshine State News, officials at the RNLA outlined the problems in Broward County. Here is their email in full:
"All this can be determined from publicly available information, but no one is putting it together; and since it's all publicly available, it's clear no one has thought about it -- but Broward is stealing Florida and it's quite open.
"No mail-in ballot in Broward County has been opened legally, and on Monday (Nov. 7) at 10 a.m. the chance to do anything about it may disappear.
"The process after the board meets is unclear, and the illegal ballots may be mixed with legal early voting ballots and as a practical matter, nothing could be done after that happens. The illegally processed ballots may wind up mixed with the legal early voted ballots. That is an unknown.
"Public Notice of Canvassing Board Meetings, available on Broward SOE website
"Two things: Actual meeting, public access notice that implies meetings, have not taken place.
"Florida Statute 101.68, SOS opinion letter December 2005, head of elections issues advisories to Supervisor of Elections, available on SOS website, second page addresses issues here.
- "Section 1 of the statute clearly says the SOE shall maintain the ballots unopened.
- "Section 2 clearly provides that an elector or candidate can challenge a mail-in ballot 'before it is opened'
"That’s why the unopened ballots MUST be approved by the full canvassing board BEFORE they are opened. This happens in public and at that point challenges could be accepted. Any ballot before the canvassing board meets has been opened illegally.
"Process explained: USPS delivers mail-ins to SOE going unopened to Pitney Bowes room. The unopened envelopes are scanned, the voter’s signature is cropped and in another room that computer-cropped signature is compared to the voter signature on file. After computer operators in another room find signature matches, the computer in the Pitney Bowes room is informed, then the envelopes run through again, sorted and run through a separate machine to slice the top, allowing access to the interior of the ballot.
"(These ballots have never been approved for opening by the canvassing board.) The opened envelopes are then delivered to the ballot openers in the room next door. Envelope and ballot are then separated, and can never be matched together again. The chance for an elector or candidate to challenge a ballot has disappeared forever, and as a practical matter has never been provided as the board has never met. Hence, the illegality of the opening.
"As an aside, and a good question is “how many mismatched signatures have there been?” It’s under 100 for 178,000 mail-ins. Clearly, the signature people are approving EVERYTHING.
"Once ballots have been opened, there is no ability to challenge a signature, which is why the opening must be approved by the board in a public meeting.
"See also: 102.141(2) public meeting of Board.
"Pitney Bowes Room discussed in affidavit below, all actions there, where the ballot mailing envelopes were “cut” (opened) in private from 10/24 to 11/3, that changed in a small way on 11/4 after the RPOF letter and meeting with Snipes, and so, now the set up at the SOE in Lauderhill has been available to many folks who have received tours from Judge John Fry, No idea who has gone by, but I’ve seen at least 15 folks get the tour, including two Herald reporters. However, the opening process, and the ability for mischief remains illegal absent a meeting of the canvassing board.
"Affidavit, of Chelsey Marie Smith, available online. There are a couple of keys in the affidavit: Pitney Bowes Room, delivery of absentee ballot requests. The only thing that is supposed to take place in the Pitney Bowes Room is the delivery from USPS of mail-in ballots in their unopened state and machine processing. Then the rest of the process, which Judge Fry has explained to many now.
"There is no reason to deliver ballot request forms, as described in the affidavit. These forms are sent to voters or given to folks in person.
"The SOE says the people described in the affidavit were making allowable duplicate ballots. They are allowed to do that in 101.5614(5) (a). However, it makes no sense that they are doing this in this room; there’s a regular office with plenty of supplies, etc., and there’s no need for these people to have requests for absentees as mentioned in the affidavit, unless they would be creating phony requests, phony returned ballots and mixing them in with the ballots that have been delivered by the post office.
"To date there have been 178,000+ ballots opened illegally in Broward County.
The SOE public explanation of the affidavit, makes no sense, although apparently it has been accepted by the Broward County state attorney. The state attorney appears to have blessed illegal activity. The explanation based upon the issues about the ballot request forms and the fact that the Pitney Bowes Room is strictly computerized makes no sense.
"Concern: the Board will meet on Monday, may vote to accept those ballots. Will they remain segregated after the meeting or mixed with non-problematic early in person votes?
"Concerns: no action, blessing of illegal activity.
"They’re not stealing a local taxing body election or sheriff, etc. It’s the presidency of the United States. End of email."
Democrat Snipes' performance as elections supervisor is no stranger to controversy. Last month 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 Oct. 28 the judge ruled Snipes' restoration plan would suffice.
Radio personality Ed Dean is a senior editor with Sunshine State News. Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith