Broward News

Citizen Audit Group Forms in Broward Ahead of 2020 Election Cycle

Elections staff began recounting ballots at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office November 11, 2018, in Lauderhill.
Elections staff began recounting ballots at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office November 11, 2018, in Lauderhill. Joe Skipper/Getty Images
It's time for Florida voters to step up — before the 2020 elections.

So say Jamie Friend and George Navarini, who co-chair Citizens Audit, a new bipartisan coalition whose aim is to bring oversight and accountability to the election process in Broward County.

Barely past the lawsuit against former county Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes for her alleged role in a botched vote recount from the 2018 midterm elections and with the elections offices in Florida's Washington and Sumter counties having all but confirmed falling victim to Russian hackers, questions remain about what exactly happened in both 2016 and 2018, where we are now, and what's next to fix the voting process in Broward.

The Florida 2020 presidential primaries are a short six months away, the primary election August 18, and the general election November 3. Florida has both a desperate need for election security measures and a nerve-wracking lack of time to implement them.

Elected and appointed officials have altogether neglected to address the matter. Former Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who ordered the recount in the 2018 election, wants the Florida Legislature to create a full-time elections cyber-security team and requested less than $500,000 — but was refused. When the Department of State instead hired contractors, legislators this year again refused to pay to retain their services. Rather than prepare, it appears officials have opted to sabotage.

Existing law falls equally short when it comes to election security. Voting machines and software are considered proprietary, thus immune to examination pre- or post-election. Internal audits, though allowed, haven't been done in years. Even finding out exactly which election offices in Florida have been tampered with and how seems insoluble — the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have classified their investigation into Russian hacking in the 2016 presidential election and all parties have been sworn to secrecy. U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Winter Park) on Thursday said it’s past time for federal authorities to inform the public — and specifically Florida — about which counties in the state were penetrated by hackers.

Gov. Rick Scott, running for the U.S. Senate in 2018, and President Donald Trump alleged fraud in the ballot counting in Broward County, though neither had evidence. While the county has had more than its share of voting problems and resulting lawsuits, no evidence of fraud related to the 2018 elections was ever found. A federal appeals court in late August sided with Snipes in a ruling that found her office had taken proper legal steps to remove ineligible voters from the county's rolls ahead of the 2016 election.

Citizen Audit may not have answers to the questions remaining about the past two election cycles, but Friend and Navarini say the hope is to bring transparency and accountability to the 2020 elections in Broward County. Friend says organizers expect to announce the formation of the coalition Tuesday, with a call for volunteers.

Friend, president of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Broward, and Navarini, who chairs the Broward Chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, say that accountability is as easy as "downloading an app, going to a local hub for quick training and a shirt, then spending a couple hours at the polls," and it's something any engaged citizen can do. Citizen Audit organizers are working with app developers to implement technology that will meet some election reform needs. As Friend pitches it, "It's election auditing in your hand, on the fly, by anyone, anywhere."

At the moment, Citizens Audit is reaching out to organizations and clubs in what Friend calls the "coalition building stage." So far the group includes 12 organizations — they range from casual clubs to professional activists, and come from both the Democratic and Republican parties — and more groups are expected to join the effort.

"This is not a liberal issue or a conservative issue," Navarini says, "it's a civil governance issue."

Later this month and all through October, Citizens Audit will be touring the county, making stops at churches, synagogues, libraries, community centers, public schools, and social clubs, offering two to three presentations seven days a week to bring these disparate factions and their participants on board.

All the while, the Citizens Audit plans to run multimedia ads to recruit volunteers to become "Citizen Auditors" and alert the general public how to report to their polling stations' particular Citizen Auditor.

Friend and Navarini say they're hoping for support from county commissioners, state representatives, and the Supervisor of Elections. Barring that, Friend says, "They just need not to interfere." 
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