To the editor:
Mr. Bradley was kind enough to send me an email with a copy of his letter to you attached just in case I hadn't gotten a chance to read it for myself.
I was invited by members of the Greater Pine Island Civic Association to address their attendees at a meeting of the Association on March 5. They asked if I could come and talk about the issues we faced during the November 2012 election. Even though this was to be held after normal working hours I felt it was important for people to know exactly what and why we encountered some of the problems that we did.
After some brief association business I was introduced to the membership. I explained that I would be presenting from a prepared statement (very much like the one I used during the hearings with the Ethics and Elections Committees for the House and the Senate in Tallahassee) and upon completion I would open the floor for questions.
Mr. Bradley, if you in fact attended this meeting, why did you not mention any of your numerous concerns and/or comments to me at that time? Before I even finished my presentation, one gentleman left the meeting. Was that you? When I opened the floor for questions, at first no one even raised their hands. I was a bit surprised because I had the impression that there would be a lot of questions. I asked several times if anyone had any questions and finally there were only two and they were minor in nature and didn't prompt any additional questions from the audience. If you had brought your concerns forward at that time, everyone could have gotten the benefit of my responses.
There are a number of issues in your letter that I would like to address at this time. They are as follows:
# 1 You called my explanations "pure self-serving bunkum." Call them what you will, but they were the facts as were they presented to our Secretary of State Ken Detzner during his visit to Lee County and during the Senate and House committee hearings. If you think I would perjure myself in front of any of them you are very much mistaken. I value my experience, reputation and my integrity way too much to jeopardize what I have worked so hard for over my 24 years in elections administration. And over those same 24 years I was involved in every single election held in Lee County. Can someone become suddenly incompetent over night? According to your comments, you truly believe so.
# 2 We have been using the same "five measly" early voting sites since 2006. They were the same ones we used in 2008 when Lee County had the highest voter turnout in the State with 86 percent. We had long lines then too! But we also had more days for people to vote early in 2008. We didn't have a 4-page ballot in 2008. During early voting each one of those pages had to be printed on the spot for every voter, which slowed up that process. We are restricted by Florida law as to where we can conduct early voting. Those places are main offices, branch offices, city halls and public libraries. City halls are not used because of the disruption early voting causes to their normal daily operation. Not all libraries have meeting rooms large enough to hold early voting activities. That's why we didn't have early voting sites in "larger, more protected facilities."
It wasn't because of a "poverty" situation as you said in your letter. It was because it's the law. Yes, we may have been able to use a couple of other libraries, but we didn't have any more equipment available to open other sites. When we were forced to give up our touch screen voting systems by our governor, since this was being mandated by the state, each county that had to make the switch to optical scan (there were 15 counties) were given one scanner for every early voting site they had in 2004 (at that time we only had four), and one scanner for every precinct, which at that time was 171. That was it. There were no "extras" for training purposes or for back ups. The county ended up having to spend another $1 million of your tax dollars to assure enough units for those purposes. And that was after spending over $6.8 million on the touch screen system just a few years earlier. The $1 million you refer to that was returned to the county was done so because that's also the law. All monies left over at the close of a fiscal year must be returned to the county. Our fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. Even if I could have spent this money, by the time we knew exactly how much we would have left, it was too late to do anything anyway. (Elections are planned months and months in advance not a few weeks before!).
# 3 We did not have any "extra" scanners hidden anywhere as questioned by Mr. Bradley. Scanners used during early voting are programmed differently than those that are delivered to the precincts for Election Day. Because a person can come from anywhere in the county and go to any of the early voting sites, the machines must be able to read and tabulate over 40 different ballot styles. The scanners at the precincts are programmed to be precinct specific. We run a Logic and Accuracy test prior to every election to test the accuracy of the machines that will be used at early voting and at the polls. Once we have run that test, we don't touch the equipment until it is put into service at an early voting site or at a precinct.
In an effort to help the county save money, when we reduced the number of precincts after redistricting (which is what just about every county in Florida did), we went from 171 to 125. The majority of the extra scanners were sent to precincts that had 3,500 or more registered voters, giving these larger sites two scanners from the start. We were left with only 15 units for replacements if we needed them on Election Day. As it turned out, we dispatched five of those units on Election Day to polling locations with extremely long lines as a second unit. We replaced five scanners that were completely out of service. That left us with only five spares for totally inoperable unit replacements until the last precinct reported in with their results. Luckily we did not have to engage those last five. So no hidden equipment in the warehouse!
# 4 - Whatever the "voter decides" is a reasonable wait time isn't any more predictable than what elections administrators feel is a reasonable amount of time. This question was asked at a meeting in Washington, D.C., in January with elections officials from all over the United States. The general response from those present was 1 hour. We all had to agree that in a perfect world there wouldn't be any wait at all, but we all know that we don't live in a perfect world. Out of 125 precincts only 30 of those had closed after 10 p.m. on Election Day. During all previous elections since we switched from punch cards in 2000, we have received the data from the precincts, certified the first unofficial results and were on our way home long before 10 p.m.
November's election was the first time in 12 years that we experienced such a delay.
I am not saying that any three-plus hour wait time, whether it is during early voting or at the polls, is acceptable, by any means. Was there anything at that time that could have been done to rectify the problem? Absolutely not, or we would have done it. Can it be fixed in the future? We are certainly going to do whatever we can to rectify the situation.
# 5 - Mr. Bradley, I also take great offense to your reference to the long lines as being "just as effective as any burning KKK cross, poll-tax or literacy test to disenfranchise voters." Shame on you! I sincerely believe that most of the people in this country have moved way beyond the burning crosses and discrimination of days gone by when it comes to voting. I and my staff don't care what your color is what your age is what your status in society is or what your party is! I currently have 29 employees and can't tell you what their party affiliation is with one exception, my administrative assistant. That's because we work so closely, and we let everyone know that we are of opposite parties. We do care that everyone has the same opportunity to vote and we work extremely hard to make that happen. I said it during my press conference that it pained me deeply to know that some people had to walk away and not vote. The tears everyone saw that day were not shed to gain sympathy, but were a true expression of how devastated I was. That's not the way Lee County Elections likes to do business never has been.
# 6 You can't compare Charlotte and Collier to Lee County seriously. We have more registered voters in Lee than Charlotte and Collier combined. But that's not the only issue. You have to stop and take a look at how many contests are on their ballots. They didn't have four pages worth (we've got 17 different Fire Control Districts alone with races on a ballot) and they didn't have to print them in two languages!
# 7 Mr. Bradley, I also must address your accusation that all of the problems we encountered were my fault, either through "incompetence" or that it was done deliberately. I assure you that, as I mentioned before, I don't believe I became "brain dead" over night. After being involved in successful elections for 24 years, eight of those as supervisor (oh, don't forget the banner 2008 election!), I will stand by my experience and expertise in the field of elections administration. And as for me doing this intentionally, why in the world would anyone subject themselves to something like this deliberately? Really?
# 8 I'm sure the reason why you as a poll watcher during early voting and on Election Day did not get a warmer welcome from the poll "workers" while you were bringing issues up to them is because as a poll watcher, you are not supposed to converse with any of the poll workers. This is outlined in the instructions issued to all poll watchers. Poll watchers are there only to observe, not to recommend or direct the activities of the site. However, you must remember, there wasn't very much that the poll workers could do either.
Contrary to your comments, we are already "nipping it in the bud" as you said. I had already spoken with the county about funding the purchase of additional equipment. Our association has already presented the Legislators with our recommendations for more days of early voting and more flexibility in choosing sites. We also included limiting the amount of verbiage on constitutional amendments. It is now in their hands to draft the kind of legislation that will address our issues and alleviate the problems we encountered.
I would like to address one more item before I close. I protect my employees like a mother would protect her child when being confronted. It was unkind of you to cast dispersions on them. Again, I have 29 very hard working, dedicated individuals with a total of 345 years of elections experience. Please, do not think for a moment that they don't know or, more importantly, care about what they do for the citizens of Lee County. You won't find a better team of professionals anywhere. Each one is the epitome of a civil servant.
If you have any questions or wish to discuss these matters further, my door is always open.
Sharon L. Harrington
Supervisor of Elections