Editorial: Some good calls, some bad, in Florida's election

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Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post/TNS

The setting is not a romantic getaway in the Caribbean, but a warehouse in Lauderhill, Florida. The programming can’t compete with the glitz of, say, “The Bachelorette,” but The Broward County Canvassing Board is important viewing.

Day after day, three people sit at a table to review mail ballots set aside for review. Some have signature problems. Others have votes for two candidates in the same race — or weirder still, a filled-in oval for one and a write-in vote for another. The Broward trio, who must ensure signature validity and divine voter intent, consists of County Judge Ken Gottlieb, County Commissioner Michael Udine and Supervisor of Elections Pete Antonacci — people with no personal stake in the outcome.

In the close elections that Florida is so famous for, canvassing boards are critically important. Their work needs to be visible so that voters can trust the outcome. To his credit, Antonacci not only livestreams board meetings, but posts previous meetings and minutes on the elections website. Udine provides updates on his Twitter account. That’s the kind of transparency and accountability we need more of in Florida elections.

BAD: SECRECY IN JACKSONVILLE

By contrast, the people of Jacksonville, Florida, are victimized daily by the imperious decisions of Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan, who has barred photographers from the Duval County canvassing board’s public meetings, in clear violation of Florida’s “sunshine” law. The law prohibits the copying or photographing of voters’ signatures, but as the Florida Times-Union points out, that’s a small part of the board’s work.

Hogan, a former state Republican legislator, also discontinued early voting at Edward Waters College, a historically Black college in the city.

And only this week did he begin to livestream board meetings — a process Broward began two months ago.

Even worse, the Times Union reported Thursday that County Judge Brent Shore, chairman of the canvassing board, repeatedly donated to President Trump’s re-election campaign and covered his property with Trump-Pence campaign signs. Hours after the disclosure, the judge resigned.

In this election, look for Jacksonville to be the new Broward.

BAD: BROWARD’S INDOOR DROP BOXES

Despite the transparency of its canvassing board, Broward failed voters by placing drop boxes for mail-in ballots inside its 22 early voting sites, forcing voters at high risk for COVID-19 to navigate early voters. By contrast, neighboring Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties allow voters to drive up and drop off ballots outside.

Antonacci’s spokesman, Steve Vancore, said outdoor drop boxes are risky because heat and humidity can make the ink on ballots smear or “bleed,” making them difficult to scan. Yet when voting rights groups called for more drive-through options this week, Vancore reminded them that voters can always place their ballots in one of the hundreds of blue mail boxes maintained — outside — by the Postal Service.

It’s too late to risk mailing your ballot. If nervous about going inside, visit the Voting Equipment Center in Lauderhill or the main elections office in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Outdoor drop boxes are available there.

GOOD: JUDICIAL WISDOM IN ELECTIONS CASES

Twice this week, Florida courts — one in Tallahassee, one in Fort Lauderdale — acted with restraint on election cases.

A unanimous Florida Supreme Court wisely dismissed a Republican-backed lawsuit that seeks to invalidate a ballot initiative that asks voters to open primary elections to all voters, regardless of party. The lawsuit was based on the unproven argument that open primaries, where the top two vote-getters advance to November, make it harder for Black candidates to win. Justices said the last-minute challenge to Amendment 3 had no merit.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, Cabinet members and Secretary of State Laurel Lee urged the high court to dismiss the lawsuit, whose supporters include Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor — putting the likely next House speaker at odds with fellow Republican DeSantis. It was disappointing to see Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz of Tampa, a conscientious lawmaker, join the charade. This lawsuit is largely about the two major political parties trying to protect their shrinking turf.

In the other case, Weston and six other cities argued that votes for a Broward County charter amendment should not be counted because the ballot language is misleading. The county wants the power to override city zoning laws for transportation projects funded by a voter-approved sales tax increase.

“Why does this have to be decided today?” Circuit Judge David Haimes asked during an online hearing on Wednesday, six days before election day. “Everything could be moot based on what voters decide.”

We agree with the cities: this ballot question misleads voters. But in a COVID-driven political atmosphere, a majority of voters have already voted, so let them be heard. Besides, the county, to its credit, has stipulated that if the amendment passes and Haimes rules in favor of the cities, it will not implement the zoning override while the case is on appeal.

BAD: ASHLEY ‘SEE NO EVIL’ MOODY

The silence from a high-level state official on the grave danger of voter intimidation is outrageous.

Last week the League of Women Voters, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Common Cause and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence sent an important letter to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. They asked her to issue a clear statement reminding the public that voter intimidation is a crime under both state and federal law. Their letter cited news reports of actual acts of harassment or intimidation by supporters of Donald Trump, like emails sent to voters by the far-right Proud Boys and the armed Miami cop who wore a Trump face mask at an early voting site.

Moody, a Trump supporter, last year told Politico Florida that she would not “play politics” with such an important office, as her predecessor, Pam Bondi, did. But Moody is a Trump surrogate on the campaign trail, and she has said nothing about the state’s responsibility to protect voters from intimidation.

Moody’s message couldn’t be clearer: As far as she is concerned, voter intimidation at the polls is your problem.

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©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Election workers recount votes during the Florida midterm election recount on November 13, 2018, at the Broward Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Florida. - Christian Colon/Miami Herald/TNS