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Brenda C. Snipes: Broward voters should feel confident about primary

The August 8 editorial "Election Flaws Show a Lack of Preparedness" is perplexing.

As to the County Commission District 2 race, the editorial is illogical and appears to be an attempt to sell papers at the expense of my longstanding reputation of delivering successful elections for more than a decade. The editorial references the history of a past Broward Supervisor of Elections and globally associates my successful tenure with a year 2000 Florida presidential election that took place years before I served.

The editorial essentially blames me for a situation involving a write-in candidate who was ruled ineligible to run by a Broward Circuit Court judge who determined the District 2 race should be open to all District 2 voters, regardless of party affiliation. The editorial inaccurately assumes I had a choice as to whether to hold an open or closed primary.

Limited research by the paper would reveal the Florida Constitution does not call for a primary election to be "open" to all qualified voters when there is opposition. Write-in candidate are considered legal opposition. Further, Section 99.061(7)(c), Florida Statutes is clear that a Supervisor's duty in reviewing qualifying papers is "ministerial."

Therefore, I have absolutely no authority to determine whether someone lives in a certain district. The editorial board should know that similar cases have been filed in other counties throughout the State of Florida. I am, however, unaware of any other situation where a local newspaper blamed a Supervisor of Elections for causing an issue that they did not create.

Election preparation has many moving parts. Preparation cannot stop because a lawsuit is filed and there is no final ruling. It should be noted that at the time of the lawsuit filing challenging the District 2 write-in candidate, preparation for the primary election was well underway. Ballots had already been coded as a closed primary; preparation of the Eeection equipment had already been performed; the recording and processing of the audio ballot for ADA machine compliance had been completed; the voter registration system had been updated with individual ballot information; and printing of ballots was already underway, to name a few. Ballot coding is a comprehensive and complex process. It is impossible to isolate individual races once coding is performed.

It is my opinion that before Judge Perlman recused herself from the write-in candidate County Commission District 2 race, she recognized the impossibility of recoding ballots at such a late stage and allowed me to construct a "reasonable alternative" plan to open the primary to all District 2 voters.

I have taken no position on the merits of the case and chose not to appeal the court ruling. My only interest is in the smooth and orderly administration of the entire election process.

Immediately after Judge Perlman's ruling on July 12, I worked with Deputy Secretary of State Gary Holland to construct a reasonable alternative plan. I was told by Mr. Holland there was precedent for placing a primary election on the general election ballot. I was also told that all matters within the election code are preempted to the state and I had no authority to proceed with an alternative plan without approval from the Secretary of State. I contacted the state several times, both in writing and by telephone seeking final approval.

In a letter just prior to a Motion to Show Cause hearing on July 23, my attorney was advised in an e-mail from the Department of State's General Counsel, that the matter was before the court and that the Court had jurisdiction to determine the outcome of the plan. This written advice was contrary to advice previously provided by the state.

Section 97.012(16), Florida Statutes, recognizes that the state has a duty to provide written direction and opinions to Supervisors of Elections on the performance of their official duties. There was no direction from the court as to a plan and it was prudent for me to consult with the state for guidance.

Because there are so many moving parts and people involved, no election is ever perfect. Mailing sample ballots are optional for elections officials under Florida statutes. While there were some mistakes on the sample ballot, they were caught early and new sample ballots were printed. Corrected sample ballots will be available in all polling places and have no correlation to the actual coded ballots. Sample ballots are also being distributed through various outreach efforts that are ongoing.

Your editorial states that "it is the responsibility of the supervisor of elections to anticipate problems and be prepared to fix them." That is exactly what I have done for more than a decade. The August primary has not taken place. Unless the appeals court overrules Judge Perlman's order to hold an open primary, the election for the District 2 seat will be held in November and all voters in that district will have an opportunity to cast a ballot. Voters in Broward can continue to vote with confidence.

Dr. Brenda C. Snipes is Broward County Supervisor of Elections.

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