Attorney Brendan A. Sweeney of Sweeney Law, P.A. Featured in the July Edition of the Broward County Bar Barrister – THE 2020 ELECTORAL SEASON IN BROWARD COUNTY
The 2020 electoral season in Broward County will most likely be one of the most important in recent history, due to many high-profile positions having open seats for the first time in years. These include, but are not limited to, State Attorney, Public Defender, as well as elections for Clerk of the Court and Sheriff. The logistics of the elections have been greatly complicated by the pandemic. The Judiciary in Broward County has been preparing for the election season for some time, with in-person training that was conducted on the eve of the pandemic in early March. On July 7, 2020 statewide training was conducted addressing the electoral process during the pandemic.
Pursuant to section 102.141, Fla. Stat., each Florida county shall have a canvassing board, that shall be composed of the supervisor of elections, a county court judge who shall act as chair, and the chair of the board of county commissioners. The duties of the canvassing board are to meet in a building accessible to the public in the county where the election occurred at a time and place to be designated by the supervisor of elections to publicly canvass the absent electors’ ballots as provided for in section 101.68, Fla. Stat., and provisional ballots as provided by sections 101.048, 101.049, and 101.6925, Fla. Stat. In addition to training workshops, a board member’s duties will commence as early as the pre-election testing of voting equipment scheduled within ten days before early voting. Thereafter, as the vote-by-mail ballots begin as early as fifteen days before an election, the duties of the canvassing board intensify through election night reporting, post-election voting system audits, and certification of election results.
While during normal times having a Broward County Court Judge assigned to the canvassing board can create issues with managing dockets, at this juncture it is even more difficult. There will be one Broward County Court Judge assigned full-time to the canvassing board and will be working for a six-week period, eighteen hours a day from 7:00 am to 1:00 am. In addition to the one County Court Judge assigned to the canvassing board there will also be three alternates selected as well, these alternates are usually Judges, however, they can also be trained hearing officers and staff attorneys. Due to the pandemic, there are approximately eight thousand civil county cases that have been reset into June and July in addition to the normal cases coming into the system in June and July. This. coupled with the potential absence of Judges serving on the canvassing board, means that the dockets for the Broward Judiciary may increase significantly during the election season.
With social distancing measures being vitally important the canvassing board is going to be faced with some new challenges in canvassing the ballots in public as required by statute. Marion County had already created a plan addressing how to have the appropriate personnel canvass the ballots. Broward County along with the other counties in Florida are working on the logistical layout of the canvassing board.
The Broward County Supervisor of Elections, Peter Antonacci, has been encouraging voters to vote by early voting due to the pandemic. The important dates to consider are the primary election that will be conducted on August 18, 2020 and the general election that will be conducted on November 3, 2020. The vote-bymail ballot ‘send’ deadline or the primary election is September 19, 2020 for the general election. Voters that are concerned about the vote-by-mail process have the option to drop off their ballots at the Supervisor of Elections offices, located downtown and in Lauderhill, and request a receipt when they drop off their ballot. With the potential significant increase in vote-by-mail ballots this may result in a longer time in canvassing the votes. Each four-page ballot will need to be precisely fed into the voting equipment, and with approximately one million voters in Broward County, this process can potentially take a great amount of time. Voters that wish to vote in person on election day can be assured that appropriate measures and safeguards will be in place to address the current issues with the pandemic. In person voting will most likely take longer than it has in the past because there will not be the same amount of voting equipment in the voting space, in order to meet social distancing requirements.
What does this all mean for members of the Broward Bar? We should all do our best to vote early, and to encourage other Broward voters to do so. Additionally, if the dockets in Broward are larger than usual, or there are issues in obtaining hearing dates, we need to do our best to be patient during these trying times and understand the importance of democracy. As President Theodore Roosevelt stated on September 7, 1903 “[i] n the history of mankind many republics have risen, have flourished for a less or greater time, and then have fallen because their citizens lost the power of governing themselves and thereby governing their state.”
See page 17 for original article – https://www.browardbar.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Barrister-July-2020-20-PG-BLEED-1.pdf