Vote for Voting

The Long March

The long, exhausting election season is beginning to seem to Tailpipe a lot like Napoleon's march on Moscow. No snow yet, maybe, but a grueling retreat for all the blow-dried candidates of January and plenty of bodies along the road.

It's in the blizzard of second-tier races, though, that the hand-to-hand combat continues. (The rusty car part read about this in War and Peace.) There's one Broward County contest that, in a sense, ranks right up there in significance with McBarack. Floridians know better than anybody: Nothing's more important than deciding who counts the votes. Currently, it's Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, a Democrat who was appointed to the post in 2003 by a Republican governor to replace Miriam Oliphant. Snipes won election the next year.

In the past five years, Snipes has presided over a series of mishaps, gaffes, and head-scratching decisions, leaving many voters somewhat less-than-confident that their votes will be counted accurately. Now, Snipes herself gets tested in the gauntlet of the election process. For the August 26 Democratic primary, Adrian Reesey, a Broward Sheriff's Office community relations specialist, is challenging Snipes. The vice president of the Dolphin Democratic Club and a former poll worker, Reesey says she stands for "restoring confidence in the community and having its voice be heard in the election process."

Perhaps a tougher test, though, will come in November, when Snipes goes head to head with one of the voting bureaucracy's chief nemeses, Ellen Brodsky.

The Brooklyn-born Brodsky is a voting-procedures junkie who has worked in the trenches of the Broward County polls (though now, because of her aggressive criticism, she has been declared persona non grata by county elections officials, she says). She's a contentious presence at public meetings about voting procedures and an outspoken critic of the county elections. Like, what about that precinct in the January presidential preference election where there were 79 more votes than registered voters?

Brodsky, who lives in Coral Springs, says she first got interested in the process when her mother worked as a poll clerk and talked about how voters were being wrongfully purged as "felons" because their names or birth dates were similar to those of people with actual records.

When Brodsky got a job at a Coral Springs voting precinct during the 2002 gubernatorial election, in the midst of the controversy about touchscreen machines, she says, she noticed peculiar disparities in the vote count. "I counted 713 people voting in my precinct, but the total from the machines was 749," she says.

Thinking that county elections officials would blow the whistle and investigate, Brodsky instead found them mysteriously upbeat. "When I went to the office after the election, everybody was jubilant, because, they said, an error of plus or minus 10 percent meant a successful election."

Under Snipes, the county has moved from touchscreens to "optical scanners," which provide a paper trail in case there are any foul-ups — though the infamous iVotronics machines are still in use for disabled voters. The new machines go into Broward voting places in the August primary and stick around for the Big Show in November.

Despite reassurances from Snipes, Reesey and Brodsky have their doubts about the new machines, which were bought last year with a no-bid contract from Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Nebraska. This is the same company that brought the county the iVotronics, those glitch-prone touchscreens.

Tailpipe is taking no sides in the election, but, for the record, both Brodsky and Reesey have websites where would-be contributors or campaign volunteers can sign up. Brodsky's is runellenrun.com, and Reesey's is votereesey2008.com. Snipes' website is brendasnipes4soe.com.

Change You Won't Believe In

Speaking of the Big Show, one Florida presidential candidate is just getting warmed up.

"I'm huffing and puffing, full steam ahead," Ryan Lipner told Tailpipe the other day, talking about his bid for the White House. The Tamarac native — who, Tailpipe can safely say, is "certifiable" — has miraculously qualified to be on the ballot in Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, and California. These are the states with the cheapest, simplest standards for presidential candidacy — but still.

"I thought about running against John Kerry in 2004," says Lipner, but he was only 20 years old then. Now 24, he feels more seasoned. You say he doesn't meet the constitutional requirement of being 35 years old? No sweat. He'll get an amendment.

Tailpipe shrinks a little further from the young man.

Lipner says he's managed to clear up some of his past legal troubles, which started at age 16, when he launched a greeting-card store with pirated Hallmark merchandise. He owns the distinction of being one of the state's only "vexatious litigators," the result of his having filed 158 lawsuits during six weeks in 2003. That was just a youthful manic episode, Lipner says. It happened because he wasn't taking medication for bipolar disorder. The presidential bid, he's quick to say, is absolutely not a manifestation of mental illness — though his court-ordered counselor wasn't convinced.

"Last week, when I told my psychologist at Henderson [Mental Health Center] that I'm still running for president, he had me Baker Acted," Lipner says. (This means to be forcibly taken to a mental hospital for observation.)

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