Broward County Absentee Ballots Carry Party Affiliation | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Broward County Absentee Ballots Carry Party Affiliation

Call it the election equivalent of a “Kick Me” sign that some mischievous kid tapes to your back.

The office of the Broward County Supervisor of Elections sent out more than 60,000 absentee ballots last week with return envelopes that identify voters’ party affiliations.

The system invites fraud, critics say, because mailed ballots go through many handlers who are not certified as poll watchers.

Click on the image for a larger version of the ballot.

Registered Democrats who vote by absentee ballot in the county are identified on the return envelopes with “Dem.” Republicans are “Rep,” and independents are “NPA,” for “no party affiliation.”

The ballots for the November 4 general election are the same, so there is no need to distinguish between Democratic and Republican ballots.

Ellen Brodsky of Broward Election Reform Coalition and an independent candidate for supervisor of elections, says that, at the least, openly identifying voters’ party affiliations could once again raise questions about the validity of Broward’s final tally on Election Day.

“The lack of a documented chain of custody raises more questions,” she says. “There’s a history of misplaced absentee ballots in this county.”

In 2004, at least 58,000 Broward County absentee ballots were lost a week before the election.

Mary Cooney, a spokesperson for Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes, said that the party references on the envelopes were merely a matter of computer-programmed information.

“That’s just the way it was programmed,” Cooney said. “The affiliation is not pertinent to the election.”

Neither Palm Beach County nor Miami-Dade County includes party affiliations on return envelopes.

Cooney acknowledged that there “have been issues” in the past with the delivery of absentee ballots. She added, though, that the missing ballots in 2004 were outgoing ballots.

But Debbie Fetterly, a spokesperson for the South Florida Postal Service District, said an investigation showed that there were no ballots lost or misplaced by the Postal Service. As for the trustworthiness of postal employees, Fetterly said that the Ponemon Institute, which studies citizens’ faith in federal agencies to handle personal information, had this year found the Postal Service to be the most trusted federal agency.

She said there had never been allegations of vote tampering by Florida postal workers.

Broward County Republican chairman Chip LaMarca said that he had “a slight concern” about openly identifying voters’ party affiliations.

“I’m going to err on the side of having faith in the postal employees,” he said.

Brodsky was not assuaged. “Voting must be cast in secret and publicly counted,” she said. “No one wants election officials or postal workers to know our party affiliation.”

Chuck Lichtman, lead counsel on election law for the Florida Democratic Party, said he was “mystified” why the envelope would be marked with party affiliations. “I’ve never heard of that happening in Florida or anywhere else,” he said. “This offends me.”

He said that the practice violates the legal principle of voting in privacy. “As soon as the envelope is marked with one party’s designation rather than the other, a degree of anonymity has been lost,” he said.

Problems could crop up not only in the interrupted chain of custody – with third parties in the postal system handling ballots – but also at the vote counting stage, he said.

Lichtman called on Snipes to change the envelopes for any remaining absentee ballots and to issue stickers to cover the party designations.

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