Be Very Afraid | Bob Norman | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

Be Very Afraid

The touch-screen voting machines aren't accountable. The chief vote counter in Broward County was handpicked by Gov. Jeb Bush, who proved his brother-borne bias in 2000. Glenda Hood -- the new, improved, and possibly even more vote-absorbent Katherine Harris -- lurks in Tallahassee.

Paranoia runs deep among Broward Democrats, who may hold the power to elect the leader of the free world. To fight the gathering dark forces, they've signed up an army of attorneys. Kerry, during an October 17 rally at C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines, called it a "multiracial dream team of lawyers to make sure every vote is counted." Broward Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar says the squad is poised to pounce. "They will be able to produce a lawsuit as fast as you can make a cup of coffee," he boasts. "There is great fear of the unknown, and I think there is reason to be concerned about the machinery."

None of this makes sense. How did Broward, a crucial Kerry bastion where Democrats outnumber Republicans almost two-to-one, wind up in such shape? Why would the Dem-dominated County Commission spend more than $20 million for machines that scare the dickens out of its people? How on Earth did Brenda Snipes, who is surrounded by the most rabid and unscrupulous band of GOP opportunists imaginable, come to be the Supervisor of Elections?

The Democrats did it to themselves. For starters, look at Mike Moskowitz, one of the leaders of Kerry's dream team in Broward. The Democratic committeeman and political insider is organizing dozens of lawyers to make sure those dastardly touch screens work. But guess what he was doing three years ago: Hawking those same machines as a lobbyist for the GOP-connected company that made them. Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software paid Moskowitz about $18,600 for helping sway the county to buy the machines. It's a conflict of interest that begs the question: Does Moskowitz, who didn't return repeated phone calls, really side with the voters, or will he remain allegiant to the company that paid him?

And then there's the terrible saga of Snipes. Jeb installed her after the Democratic leadership chased out Miriam Oliphant, a fellow party member who was elected by the people. Petty politics drove that train. Ironically, Oliphant had urged the county to buy an optical scanner system, which is less expensive and more accurate than touch screens and allows for a paper recount that Democrats now so badly wish they had.

Oliphant had serious problems, but she never stood a chance against a juvenile and vindictive commission that was hell-bent on removing her. Many dim Democrats rejoiced when Jeb plucked Oliphant from office this past November and installed Snipes, a School Board bureaucrat with disturbing ties to Republicans. They should have been mortified. To understand Snipes, all they had to do was check out the man who emceed her appointment ceremony: Dorsey Miller, an opportunistic and oft-investigated black Republican tapped by Jeb to engineer Snipes' ascension.

Miller is a campaign official for Dubya and a Jeb appointee on the board of the publicly financed North Broward Hospital District, the heart of Republican power in Broward. The district is fraught with corruption and is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation concerning insider deals using taxpayer money.

It's a troubling combination: Snipes is steeped not just in Republicans but in a group well-known for violating the public trust. Also closely aligned with Snipes is NBHD General Counsel William Scherer. You might remember Scherer -- a co-chair for the governor's campaign and a fundraising Ranger for the president's campaign -- from the 2000 reelection fiasco. He's the charming fellow who started yelling on live television during the recount and had to be removed from the Broward County Courthouse. In March, Snipes hired Scherer's law partner, W. Earl Hall, as treasurer for her campaign. Hear this again: The so-called Democrat running the elections office hired a Republican activist's law firm to run her campaign.

Scherer works closely with NBHD lobbyist Jim Blosser, who is perhaps the most influential Republican powerbroker in South Florida. Blosser's law and lobbying firms are loaded with former Jeb Bush officials, including former spokesman Justin Sayfie.

Scherer, Blosser, Miller, and others at the hospital district juggernaut predictably helped bankroll Snipes' campaign. District board members, employees, and associated businesses contributed at least $12,000. Other top Republicans pitched in thousands more. For good measure, Snipes hired Cora Braynon, another Jeb appointee at the hospital district, to work for her campaign. This past August, when Snipes won the Democratic primary, the campaign quietly paid a cool $1,000 to Braynon for supplying "campaign workers' food," according to elections office records.

That same month, the Daily Business Review reported that Snipes had hired Blosser's law firm to represent the Supervisor of Elections office in case of any election-related litigation. After a small uproar over the outrageously partisan nature of the hiring, Snipes fired Blosser's firm, but the message was clear: The supervisor was in the Republicans' corner.

Yet the Dems still rallied behind Snipes to give her a strong victory in the August 31 primary. Her Republican challenger, Steven Shin, then dropped out after his own party encouraged him to leave the race. The GOP already had its choice in place, after all. So it's four more years for Snipes and the virulent, rogue political profiteers who stand behind her.

And don't expect the Democratic leadership in government that created this mess to solve it now. The top local outside official overseeing the election is Mayor Ilene Lieberman. She may be a Democrat, but she won't be much of a watchdog. Not only did Lieberman vote to buy the ES&S machines but she also owes her political career to none other than Scherer. During the early 1990s, when she was mayor of Lauderhill, Scherer was her chief campaign fundraiser. After she joined the County Commission, he subcontracted hospital district legal work to Lieberman. And her campaign treasurer this year was W. Earl Hall, the same Scherer partner hired by Snipes. Oh, and Hall is also city attorney for Lauderhill. How's that for cozy?

Lieberman was quoted in the Miami Herald last week as saying that she expects the machines to run perfectly. Surprise, surprise. But she may not be far from right. My hunch is that if things get ugly in Broward County next week when the votes are counted, it will be human hands, rather than technical errors, that cause the problems.

No wonder elections come around Halloween -- they can be very frightful occasions, indeed. In what is likely the most important one of all, local Democrats have created their own Frankenstein monster. And it's definitely alive.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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