The scrutiny of the Broward elections office continues Friday as Republican and Democratic lawyers are observing the canvassing of ballots at the elections warehouse in Lauderhill.
Both parties are poised to have lawyers observe election workers open mail ballots throughout the weekend.
On Wednesday, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia sent a letter to Broward Supervisor of elections Brenda Snipes alleging that her office had improperly started opening mail-in ballots without the proper review of the canvassing board. Ingoglia also objected to Snipes’ policy to only allow the public to observe the process for about a half hour each day.
In response, Broward Judge John Fry, a member of the canvassing board, said on Wednesday he would be present whenever the canvassing of ballots takes place. He also said that the public -- including media and lawyers on behalf of political parties -- could watch the process.
“I am here and will be here between now and Monday every minute,” that canvassing is underway, Fry told a group of observers Friday afternoon. “I think we have statutorily complied. I’m going to be here. The residents of Broward County deserve this. There should be no taint.”
Among the observers on tour: Tim Donnolly, public corruption chief for Broward State Attorney Mike Satz. On Thursday, Satz’s office announced that it had opened a voter fraud hotline.
When asked if he was investigating any complaints, Donnolly replied “I’m here to ask questions.”
Donnolly noted that there is identification on the envelopes which contain the ballot. He asked if once the ballot is removed from the envelope if election workers can identify who the voter is and he was told that they can’t.
Snipes has said she followed a lawful procedure before Fry stepped in. Since Snipes is on the ballot, she can’t be on the canvassing board so a judge appointed electors -- county employees -- who have been on hand observing canvassing daily.
Asked about why she previously only allowed 30 minutes of observation by the public, Snipes said “it’s the policy we had in place at the time.”
The observer on Friday morning for the Republicans was David Shestokas, a lawyer for the Republican National Lawyers Association who is based in Chicago but is a member of the Florida bar. Ediberto Roman, a Florida International University law professor, observed for the Democrats. Roman does Hispanic outreach in Miami-Dade for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Afternoon observes included Joseph Harbaugh, a Nova Southeastern University law professor, and on the Republican side Shari McCartney, a director at the Tripp Scott law firm.
On Monday, the full canvassing board will convene and examine absentee ballots that lack a signature or have a mismatch in the signature.
Snipes said Friday morning that the last count she heard was that more than 800 lacked signatures. A document from her office Thursday showed 78 mismatched signatures. Those numbers fluctuate daily because voters can come in and resolve any problems with their signature.
“I think the election is going extremely well,” Snipes said Friday. “It’s unfortunate we have a lot of extra things we have to deal with.”
But Snipes said she did not object to Fry opening up access to the public.
At around 4 p.m., an elections worker told the room full of people opening ballots that they were done for the day which drew some cheers. That prompted Fry to cap off the day with a quip: "I am Judge Fry and I approve this message!"
(Miami Herald photo by David Smiley shows Judge John Fry (left) with David Shestokas, a lawyer on behalf of the Republican National Lawyers Association.)