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New Broward elections office will prioritize security after past protests

A crowd of people with signs stand together outside.
Joe Skipper
Crowds gathered outside of the Broward County Supervisor of Elections this week in Florida. Judges ruled Friday that election supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach counties had to release how many votes still had to be counted.

Following the insurrection at the capitol in 2021 and local protests that gained attention from right-wing activists across the nation in 2018, the Broward Supervisor of Elections is focusing on security as they build their new offices.

They have also taken steps to improve transparency without interfering with poll workers — a response to misinformation spread by politicians and activists sometimes pointed at the elections office.

Joe Scott, the county's supervisor of elections, said security was always a priority in the plans. The fact that he started on this role a day before the January 6th insurrection served to drive home the new level of threat in the current political environment.

“You don't have people that are just thinking, ‘I have a right to enter this building and stop them from doing their job.’ It's like it goes beyond that,” Scott said. “They're now thinking, ‘I have a patriotic duty to stop the wheels of democracy from turning here.’”

The Broward Supervisor of Elections office has a storied history of protests and election day drama, including the infamous 2000 presidential election.

Protests outside of the Broward Supervisor of Elections building in 2018.
Gerard Albert III
Protests outside of the Broward Supervisor of Elections building in 2018.

One of the most egregious incidents happened in 2018, when the race for senate between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson came down to the wire. Scott declared victory despite local officials considering a recount, while Donald Trump — then president — tweeted unfounded claims that the election was being stolen.

Protests outside of the Lauderhill office ensued, with right-wing activists — including the Proud Boys — camped out in the parking lot for days, at times even pressing against the building entrance in an effort to intimidate poll workers. Fearful elections staff took off their identification badges around the building, while police officers had to sneak out then-Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes after death threats.

“We can guarantee that in the future there will be people who lose elections and get upset about it and lash out at the system,” Scott told WLRN. “We have to make sure that there's no influence, that people are not scared to come to work, that people feel secure and safe, to come to work and … not be concerned about what's going on outside.”

READ MORE: How we got here: All eyes on Broward County's recount

Joe Scott, Supervisor-elect of the Broward County Elections Office.
Courtesy of Joe Scott's campaign Facebook page
Joe Scott, Supervisor-elect of the Broward County Elections Office.

The new building will offer a secured parking lot for employees only, as well as employee-only entrances. It will also offer law enforcement easier crowd control, Scott said, while allowing people to protest in the adjacent parking lot and sidewalk.

The new elections office and warehouse, expected to be in use by June 2024, will sit just south of the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. The county purchased it in July 2022 for $19.5 million, according to the Sun Sentinel.

It will be open to the public, who can return absentee ballots and register to vote or change their party affiliation. The canvassing board will also convene there.

Scott said in addition to the new security upgrades he is excited about the level of transparency the building will offer.

“When people come in, there's going to be a room you can go into and observe the canvassing board meetings and you'll also be able to walk around the ballot processing area,” he said.

“And there's going to be these big windows that you can look in and see everything that's going on. You won't be able to interfere with anything that's going on. You'll just be able to kind of walk around and see everything.“

Scott hopes the new building will also host students from the area and offer an educational experience.

“We're hoping that in the future kids in this community won't be influenced by some of the misinformation that can be out there around elections,” he said.

“That they get a chance to kind of see up close how exactly this works so that when they are exposed to misinformation in the future, they say, ‘Oh, no, that's not how it works. I've seen the elections office, I know how it works.’”

Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
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