Technically Speaking / Political Commentary
By Perry Busby
The old adage, “what you can’t see can’t hurt you,” does not appear in Title IX of the Florida statutes, but election supervisor offices in nearly 40 counties adhere to such logic every time they delete digital ballot image files at the end of each election. Last week three state legislators, the Florida Democratic Party and eight active voters filed a legal action in state court to prevent state and local election officials from continuing to destroy election materials critical for verifying election results.
Currently, at least 27 of the state’s county Supervisors of Elections (SOEs) are preserving the ballot images while the others are not. The lawsuit seeks an order requiring Secretary of State Laurel Lee and State Elections Director Maria Matthews to instruct all SOEs of their legal duty to preserve ballot images and that defendant SOEs be enjoined from destroying the images following the August 18 primary and November 3rd general elections and all elections thereafter.
Digital ballot images are automatically created by digital voting equipment for all ballots, whether submitted by vote-by-mail, during early voting, on election day or provisionally. The lawsuit asks digital ballot images be preserved for 22 months as required by federal and state law and be treated as public records available for inspection and production under such laws.
The lawsuit is the product of a collaborative effort led by AUDIT Election USA, a nation-wide, non-partisan organization working to make elections more transparent and publicly verifiable. John Brakey, the founder and director of AUDIT Election USA said, “Not only has Florida been the scene of numerous razor-close elections, including the 2000 presidential election that was decided by just 537 votes and the 2018 U.S. Senate election that was decided by only 10,033 votes. It is also a state with a reputation for sloppy sometimes negligent election administration. During the 2018 U.S. Senate statewide recount, for example, Broward County “lost” 2,040 ballots.
Ballot images are public records that can easily allow anyone to verify election results. Some places, such as Dane County, WI, and San Francisco, CA, and 15 counties in Florida, provide ballot images with a public records request or post all the ballot images on their websites so that voters can verify election results for themselves.
“Governor DeSantis has just signed a new law that allows digital ballot images to be used in recounts. Yet, there is nothing in the law requiring the ballot images to be preserved for 22 months. This new law adds urgency to the preservation of ballot images as vital election records,” said Susan Pynchon, Director of Florida Fair Elections Coalition and one of the lawsuit’s expert witnesses.
The complainants in the lawsuit include State Representative Joseph S. Geller (D-Aventura); State Representative Geraldine Thompson (D-Windermere); State Senator Victor M. Torres (D-Kissimmee); Dan Helm, a candidate for Supervisor of Elections in Pinellas County; and eight voters representing Broward, Miami-Dade, Duval, Orange, Lee, Pinellas, Palm Beach, and Hillsborough counties.
For the sake of transparency, it should be noted that I, Perry Busby, am also listed as a plaintiff in this case. While the brief makes its way through the courts, the group is asking additional voters and social justice organizations to join on as complainants.
Let me know what you think. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always stay tuned to the Westside Gazette for more information about your vote.