This article by Larry Barszewski was published July 25, 2017 by The Sun-Sentinel.
Broward County could have thousands of ineligible voters on its rolls, increasing the risk of voter fraud, because its election officials don’t do enough to keep the lists accurate, according to a national group that has challenged voter rolls across the country.
In a lawsuit, the American Civil Rights Union, a conservative group started by a former official in President Ronald Reagan’s administration, contends that in recent years Broward’s voting lists have included more names than the number of voting-age people living in the county.
“Something very unusual is happening to create that situation,” said Scott Gessler, a former Colorado secretary of state who testified as an expert witness in a non-jury trial that began Tuesday before U.S. District Court Judge Beth Bloom in Miami.
The ACRU wants Bloom to order Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes to be more proactive in cleaning up the voter lists. The suit could set a nationwide precedent for how aggressive elected officials have to be to ensure that non-citizens and people who move, die, become felons or are mentally incapacitated are purged from the rolls. The group’s efforts around the country have been criticized as a voter suppression effort that could snare eligible voters, too.
The suit is a “poorly devised solution to a problem that does simply not exist,” said Carrie Apfel, a Washington D.C. attorney for the SEIU United Healthcare Workers union, which has intervened in the case on behalf of Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes. The union is concerned that if the suit is successful, it could erroneously cost some of its members the right to vote, Apfel said.
According to Gessler, some things the county should be doing are:
- Comparing state driver’s license information with voter lists to catch more people who may have moved
- Checking whether non-citizens with driver’s licenses are on the voter rolls
- Using U.S. Postal Service electronic data to ensure voter addresses are accurate
- Obtaining jury recusal information to see whether people are getting out of jury duty for reasons that should keep them from voting, too.
Snipes said her office isn’t shirking its duties and already has a robust effort to accurately update voter lists, which she said can be difficult in a county with a transient population and more than one million voters. Her office relies on updates it receives from the state about deaths and newly convicted felons. It receives information about people who have changed addresses through mailers that are sent out but returned when there’s a bad address.
“We’re always in the process of maintaining the voter rolls, updating the information,” Snipes said. A Democrat, Snipes was elected to a fourth term in November. She has held the post since being appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003.
Susan Carleson, president of the ACRU, said it’s critical for elections offices to remove ineligible voters because as long as those names are on the registration rolls, there’s a chance they could be used to cast an improper ballot.
“It an invitation for voter fraud,” Carleson said.
The ACRU is being represented by attorney Christian Adams, who was appointed this month to President Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity, which Trump created after claiming that he lost the popular vote because millions of people voted illegally. Adams is also president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative nonprofit group that says it exists “to aid the cause of election integrity and fight against lawlessness in American elections.”
Adams said the Broward case is the first to look at how much elections offices are required to do to make sure their voting lists are accurate. In opening statements Tuesday, Adams said the ACRU has identified more than 100 counties across the country that show more registered voters than those counties have people of voting age.
Steven Camarotta, a demographer for the Center for Immigration Studies who specializes in analyzing U.S. Census Bureau data, testified his review of population data showed the county’s voter rolls amounted to 108.5 percent of voting-age residents in 2010 and 96.7 percent in 2014. But Apfel called that data “misleading and unreliable” and said it relied on “inflated numbers.”
Burnadette Norris-Weeks, an attorney for the elections office, said thousands of people are removed on a consistent basis. In court documents, elections office information shows Broward removed almost 200,000 names from its voter lists in a two-year period ending in January.
The civil trial continues Wednesday and is tentatively scheduled to wrap up Monday.
In 2012, Snipes office was criticized for allowing five felons to vote even after being notified by the Broward Sheriff’s Office that they were illegally on the voter rolls. At the time, Snipes said she did not purge them from the voting rolls because she relies on the state to send her a verified list of felons to be purged.