The Phantoms of Oakland Park
Somebody was worrying recently about the sanctity of the vote in Broward County elections. Who was that? Oh, yeah, that would have been Tailpipe. The emissions-spouting cylinder was saying he was particularly stressed out by non-functioning, error-prone voting machines.
Well, nobody was passing around chill-out drops after the January 29 primary, a mostly unnoteworthy affair with some very strange doings.
For a primary election, especially one in which Democratic votes weren't supposed to count in selecting delegates, there was a very good turnout — better than 38 percent for Broward County. But nobody expected the kind of turnout that one precinct in Oakland Park got. According to the certified results, precinct D001, with its voting machines in the Collins Community Center on NE 3rd Avenue, racked up 1011 votes that day. Phenomenal, considering there are only 932 registered voters in the area. Not only did every registered voter in the precinct show up, but maybe 79 friends, relatives, and (who knows?) sundry out-of-towners as well.
In truth, there are a number of possible explanations for the almost 9 percent overcount. One of the Board of Elections' notoriously balky iVotronics machines, a touchscreen model that will be phased out later this year, could have been up to its old trick of doubling or tripling its results. There could have been defective memory cards in the Collins Community Center machines, spitting out extra votes. Maybe there was some sort of human error involved.
Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes thinks she knows what happened. She responded by telephone to the 'Pipe's questions with a weary patience. "You're calling about precinct D001," she said before the 'Pipe could ask his questions.
Elementary, my dear Tailpipe: In a primary there are different ballots for each party. The Democratic Party ballot in this one was designated, like the precinct, D001, Snipes explained. "During the early voting [in the three weeks prior to Election Day], the D001 voters were put into precinct D001." She added that the mistake was "a reporting issue" that had "absolutely no impact on the outcome of the election."
This is not good enough for voting rights activists like Ellen Brodsky, one of the leaders in the citizen-run exit poll called Project Vote Count. For one thing, Snipes doesn't explain how those early votes got from three early voting sites, all in Fort Lauderdale, to the Collins voting place, Brodsky says. And there was apparently no post-election investigation of the Collins machines to see if they were malfunctioning. Besides that, Brodsky charges, the Board of Elections had opened early voting on January 8, a day before running the state-required "logic and accuracy" tests to see that machines were operating properly.
Brodsky adds that her subsequent research of voting records shows that the problem is not a one-precinct anomaly. There were overcounts of early votes in other precincts as well, though not big enough to raise red flags (eight extra Democratic votes in precinct D002, for example).
The foul-ups — whatever their source — may have been insignificant for the January 29 vote, which included just two statewide measures: A vote for a presidential nomination preference and on a property tax amendment. In a more complex election, involving local candidates, a glitch like the one in precinct D001 could irrevocably confuse the results — "the kind of development that would undermine anybody's faith in the system," Brodsky says.
In fact, the "certified" vote totals, Brodsky contends, are more like approximations than accurate totals. "It's like, pick a number and they'll certify it," she says.
Set 'em up, Joe. The 'Pipe needs a stiff drink.
You've seen 'em. There were at least four of them on the corner of Federal Highway and Oakland Park Boulevard. More at the corner of SE 17th, men of all shapes and sizes standing at streetlights throughout north Broward, wearing brand new camouflage pants and matching caps, with bright white T-shirts that read DISABLED VETERANS. They go from car to car at red lights thrusting open bags and upturned hats at motorists. They move from lane to lane as the good citizens of Broward empty their change trays and slip folded bills into the open bags.
Tailpipe became suspicious the other day when he saw one of the "disabled veterans" at Oakland Park with a store tag on his camouflage pants, as if they'd been purchased that morning. There wasn't a legitimate military uniform or uniform part in sight.
A representative of the City of Fort Lauderdale's business tax office said that no group with "disabled veteran" in the name had been issued any kind of solicitation permit this year. The city's code enforcement and building services departments said the same thing. The city's special events office did not return calls.
The Disabled American Veterans charitable trust, based in Cold Spring, Kentucky, says they haven't had any fundraisers in South Florida this month. D.A.V. is the largest foundation of its kind in the country.
Tailpipe approached the man with the tag on his pants and asked if he was, in fact, a disabled military veteran. He said he was. When asked where he had served, he replied with a stumbling, "In the... First... um... Airborne." When 'Pipe asked where the money was going, he said he didn't want to talk anymore.
If anyone wants to donate to D.A.V., go to www.dav.org. If anyone wants to just give away money for no particular reason, Tailpipe is standing by.
In 1999, a former Broward Community College professor who was an expert in volcanoes introduced the sport of Ultimate Frisbee to her pupils. Inspired, the students founded an Ultimate Frisbee team at the school, calling it Pompeii's Children, in reference to the city near Mount Vesuvius. As years passed, the professor moved to Hawaii and students graduated. But a love for the game lived on. The BCC students even returned to campus for practice — three times a week! Who knew a little sport could inspire such massive devotion?
"To an Ultimate player, that disc [Frisbee] is like crack cocaine," explains an athlete who calls himself "Manskirt."
Team captain Kristin Deffler says school authorities allowed Pompeii to stay on as an intramural team, with alumni and community players permitted to join BCC students on the field as long as all players signed waivers. Over the years, she says, more than 100 BCC students have flicked a disc with the team.
By January of 2007, Pompeii set its sights on playing a big tournament in Hawaii. It would make their old professor so proud! One player, Ilan the Magician, offered to stage a magic show to raise funds for the trip. The high-spirited team agreed to split proceeds with two charities that benefit children.
Deffler arranged to use BCC's auditorium for the show. It sounded like a great deal — BCC staff would handle cleanup and work the cash registers at the box office. In a pre-show meeting, Deffler says, a BCC staffer told her to open a bank account in the team's name; funds could then be transferred to her control. When the curtains went up, Ilan's two performances drew some 1,300 patrons.
But when Deffler went to collect the $3,715.17 in earnings, controllers of the purse strings pointed out a school policy: They could only disburse funds to on-campus club accounts, not to the team's outside bank account.
Deffler says that she can't access a club account because she's no longer a full-time student. She concedes that the school has a rule on its side — but that doesn't mean it's fair. She was misinformed while setting up the show, she says, and besides, she sees other loopholes: "If I'm a full-time student, I can raise $3,000 in the spring semester, and in the fall semester, not have access to it if I go to school half-time."
The team never made it to Hawaii. But Deffler has recently reignited her fight for the money after giving up last spring.
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"Right now the money is in a student life account inaccessible to us," she says. "Charities are saying, 'Where's our money?' Sure, [the current accounting staff] may have walked into something that probably wasn't set up the way it should have been done — but what's the harm and why are you making it so difficult for us?"
Asked for comment, two BCC officials failed to return Tailpipe's calls, and Operations Coordinator Diana Honeyblue-Monroe — who has ignored Deffler's emails and still seems to be missing the point — would only say, tersely, "All she has to do is open the club account."
At least Deffler's education served her well. She's all growed up now — and she's an attorney. If BCC doesn't work with her soon, she says, the school can expect a demand letter from her law firm.
An alumni donation would have been so much... friendlier.