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A New Bipartisan Organization Is Recruiting Volunteers To Audit Broward County's Elections In 2020

broward county elections
Caitie Switalski
/
WLRN
Broward County Citizens protested Fmr. Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes at the end of the 2018 midterm elections. There were issues recounting several statewide and local races.

A new nonpartisan group organizing in Broward County is looking to make sure the next round of elections goes a lot more smoothly than 2018 – with all the recounts

It's called Citizens Audit Broward. Volunteers all over the county will use a few different apps … And yes, they know what happened to the Iowa Caucus results, and they say that won’t happen here. 

“I welcome it. We should be watched carefully, based on reputation. We’ve earned it,” Broward County Supervisor of Elections Peter Antonacci told WLRN about Citizens Audit Broward. “Whatever they have to offer, they can bring to the canvassing board and it will be positive. To the extent that we can accommodate their interests under the current legal structure we’re gonna do it.”

WLRN spoke with the the co-chairs of Citizens Audit Broward: Jamie Friend, president of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Boward – and George Navarini, Broward County chair of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. They're planning a training session for volunteers the week of March 2.

 

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

WLRN: How will this process work? 

FRIEND: At the very least, we want to deter fraud at the best, we want to find that there is none. In the middle is to identify, report and most importantly, to empower the citizens.

For March in the presidential primaries, we're gonna be rolling out with the first app, which is a data capture application. We'll be taking pictures of the vote tallies that are posted at the end of the day outside of each precinct. And those numbers that are posted outside the windows are the totals from each machine. And that needs to match the totals that are reported from the supervisor of elections office at the end of the night.

How is technology and the use of smartphone apps helping you audit the elections?

NAVARINI: Basically, think of it as a large abacus with a lot of beads where we can process a large amount of numbers in a quick manner, and also— more importantly—in a manner that if it does have to go before a judge, it's admissible in court.

FRIEND: It'd be like auditing on the fly. I mean, to me, that's what the technology aspect is really incredible that it can be done on a spontaneous basis and that it's still secure. It is G.P.S. based and it's time stamped and you're taking a picture of a tape that's also has an identification number on it from the machines that it came out of and the location, the precinct location that it's at.

The Iowa Democratic Party experienced problems during its caucus with coding issues in an app that they used. How is your audit planned for Broward's elections going to factor in technology errors or issues?

NAVARINI: We don't have the same company. It's a completely different technology and completely different algorithm. I was watching it and it was basically a combination of bemusement and sadness. That casts doubt on the process. The reason that both Jamie and I are getting together and bringing Broward County together to be able to do this is to be watchdogs. 

FRIEND: This was an exclamation point on the need for external independent data collection and the need for nonpartisan. We've been working on these apps while I say we, I mean Democracy Counts, which this nonprofit, nonpartisan organization out of California. They specialize in nothing but election auditing software. So they've run tests already, glitch-free at this point. What we saw in Iowa, let's assume they had all good intentions, with probably a lack of time.

Read More: Broward Faces Crisis In Voter Confidence

How is what these volunteers are going to do different from what poll workers already do? 

NAVARINI: Actually a poll worker is there, to make sure that the equipment runs properly, that all the votes are properly tallied, that all the procedures are done in accordance to law, and that's it. 

What if we have a situation that at the end of the night the numbers are drastically different and we're looking at a variance of 25, 30 points and that variance is enough to move that polling place, vote from candidate A to candidate B at that point, those numbers are in question.

So if nothing else, first of all, by us being there, it puts everyone on notice, both on the inside and the outside that someone is watching.

You have Democrats working with Republicans, Republicans working with Democrats in this nonpartisan, grassroots organization. Do you share equal power? 

NAVARINI: There are two things that the state runs that has to be above reproach, and it's going to sound weird because they're totally different. One is the lottery. One is the election.

If the people who participate feel that either one of them is cooked, they stop participating. What I think we can bring to the table is an extra set of eyes, almost as an advocate, for the people, for the voters of Broward County.

If the system is working correctly, it has the opportunity of bringing more voters to the polls.

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, produces WLRN's midday public affairs program, Sundial weekdays at 1 and 8 p.m. Prior to transitioning to production, Caitie covered news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News for four years.