By Larry Barszewski
(August 4, 2017)
A federal judge could soon make a national example out of Broward County’s elections office.
Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes has been on trial, defending her office against claims it isn’t doing enough to remove ineligible voters from the county’s voter rolls, a practice that could lead to voter fraud.
Snipes asserts that she’s making a reasonable effort to keep the lists up to date and is doing everything the law requires.
The county’s elections office is one of more than 140 nationwide that have been accused of having more registered voters than eligible voting-age residents. Several organizations have threatened lawsuits if the counties don’t get more aggressive at removing ineligible voters from their lists. The Broward case is the first to go to trial, and it’s seen as a possible precedent for others.
“Outcomes matter in this case,” said J. Christian Adams, who represented the American Civil Rights Union in its case against Broward County. “If there are problems in the rolls, it should be addressed.”
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His efforts are opposed by groups that fear eligible voters might be scrubbed from the rolls, too, if an all-out effort to purge names becomes more important than ensuring that properly registered residents remain on the voter lists.
U.S. District Court Judge Beth Bloom’s decision on what is reasonable and what extra obligations can be placed on elections offices is at least several months away.
At issue are the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, better known as the “Motor Voter Act,” which made it easier for people to register to vote by allowing them to do it at the same time they apply for a driver’s license. The law also requires elections offices to keep their voter lists accurate and current.
Cases have been decided about sections of the law dealing with making voter registration more accessible, but lawyers said the Broward ruling could be the first to say how aggressive elections offices have to be when it comes to removing bad names from its rolls.
The importance of the five-day trial that ended Wednesday was not lost on either side. Two attorneys for the elections office were joined by eight others supplied by a labor union and liberal advocacy group. The ACRU, a Virginia-based nonprofit, had five attorneys on its side.
Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes and her office provided plenty of fodder.
The ACRU case focused on voter lists that included dead people, 130-year-olds, felons, duplicate registrations, invalid commercial addresses and that had “improbably high” voter registration rates. Snipes testified that some people who have been registered “are not eligible to vote and they slip through.”