By Larry Barszewski
(July 27, 2017)
Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes will testify in federal court in Miami on Monday about allegations the county has a bloated voter list because her office isn’t doing enough to purge ineligible voters.
Snipes will be defending her office against a suit brought by the American Civil Rights Union, a conservative Virginia-based group that has been challenging voter registration lists nationwide. The nonprofit organization says it wants to make sure voter lists accurately reflect only eligible voters to reduce the potential for voter fraud.
The ACRU is asking U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom to order the county to step up its efforts to remove ineligible voters from the rolls, including non-citizens, dead people, felons and those who have moved or are mentally incapacitated. Critics fear the more aggressive approach the ACRU is advocating could knock many eligible voters off the rolls as well.
On Thursday, Wynmoor Village resident Richard Gabbay testified that he alerted the elections office in October 2015 to more than 600 people registered to vote in his Coconut Creek community who either died or no longer lived there, but he was not satisfied with the office’s response. He first noticed many listed voters had moved when he took part in a Republican get-out-the-vote effort in 2012 and he got a list of his precinct’s voters from the state in 2015.
“In the process, I noticed persons who had duplicate registrations and people I knew who had passed away,” Gabbay testified. Elections officials said while it may have seemed the office wasn’t moving quickly, it has requirements to meet before it can remove people from the list. For instance, one of the people Gabbay reported as dead turned out to still be alive.
In March 2016, Snipes sent Gabbay a report showing 176 of the people he identified were removed from the voter list after mail sent to them was returned undeliverable. The office also removed four who moved out of the county, 13 who had died and three duplicate registrations. The largest chunk, 407, were determined to be inactive voters and were scheduled to be removed from the lists starting in May 2016.
Bloom also heard testimony from Tampa resident Gregg Prentice, who has done extensive research of the state’s voting rolls. He submitted documents to Snipes in 2013 showing 1,200 county voters were using UPS offices as their voting addresses. He said it was months before he heard from the elections office.
What Prentice did notice was that the voter addresses for most of the names he had submitted started changing on updated lists to having the Supervisor of Elections office as their address. On cross examination, Prentice conceded those voters could have been eligible ones, possibly including homeless people, boat dwellers, overseas military personnel with no permanent county address or U.S. citizens from the county living abroad.
Broward County isn’t the only county to come under scrutiny. The ACRU is being represented by J. Christian Adams, who currently heads another conservative organization, the Public Interest Legal Foundation.
In 2015, the foundation sent letters to elected officials in 141 counties in 21 states threatening lawsuits if those counties didn’t step up efforts to remove ineligible voters from their voter rolls. The Broward lawsuit accused it of having voter rolls that amounted to 103 percent of eligible voting-age residents in the county.
Adams previously was with the ACRU and Judicial Watch, another conservative group that has sent letters to 11 states this year — including Florida — threatening federal lawsuits if they don’t get counties to clean up their voter rolls. The ACRU has also filed suits in Texas, Mississippi and Pennsylvania.
The question Bloom must decide is how large an effort local elected officials are required to make to ensure their voter rolls are up to date.
Snipes insists her office has a robust program of cleaning up its lists.
The ACRU says the county could be doing even more, making use of state driver’s license information to identify people who have moved or are non-citizens, and reviewing jury recusal forms that individuals fill out when they claim they cannot sit on a jury because they are not a citizen or they are a convicted felon whose voting rights haven’t been restored.