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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Broward elections supervisor resolves Republicans’ challenge over mail-in ballots



Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda C. Snipes agreed Wednesday evening to alter the way her office reviews and opens mail-in ballots after her methods were challenged by the Republican Party of Florida.

Snipes — whose office has dealt with a series of mishaps and complications this election cycle — received a letter Wednesday afternoon from state party chairman Blaise Ingoglia alleging that her office has illegally processed and opened scores of the more than 153,000 ballots that have been cast by mail so far in Broward County.

Ingoglia said Snipes had erred by failing to convene Broward’s canvassing board while opening and reviewing its absentee ballots, and by giving the public only a half-hour each morning to review the process, thereby denying potential opportunities to contest problematic ballots.

“These illegal actions must stop immediately,” he wrote, asking for her to reply by 4 p.m. Wednesday. “The Republican Party of Florida is prepared to take all necessary legal actions to ensure that Broward County conducts its election in compliance with the law.”

Snipes and current and past members of the county’s canvassing board contested Ingoglia’s assertions when contacted Wednesday, and said they were following a legal process.

“The canvassing board has never opened the ballots,” Snipes said. “We have procedures we follow that are approved in our security manual sent to state. We don’t feel like we are doing anything illegal — this is the process we have always used.”

Still, within hours of receiving Ingoglia’s letter, Snipes had brokered a compromise, the Miami Herald has learned.

According to sources close to the situation, the agreement involves two components:

Starting Thursday morning, Judge John D. Fry, a member of the three-person canvassing board, will be at the supervisor’s office in person to oversee canvassing of mail-in ballots.

Snipes agreed that both the state Republican and Democratic parties will have a representative on-hand at at all times as ballots are canvassed.

Previously, Snipes said her office opened mail-in ballots under the supervision of a representative of the canvassing board appointed by county administrators to observe the process, rather than the full canvassing board. Members of the public or campaigns were allowed to observe the canvassing of ballots for about half an hour.

The agreement, which has yet to be announced, likely avoids a potentially complicated situation less than one week before election day. At about 600,000, Broward has more registered Democrats than any other county in the state. The issue also came on a day when Republican nominee Donald Trump was in South Florida, continuing to allege that the election is “rigged.”

Reporting with David Smiley, Miami Herald

[Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2016 9:58am]


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