Miami-Dade Might Be Asking for Lawsuit over Poll-Watcher Rules

Ready for South Florida courtroom drama to screw up another presidential election?

That's exactly what Miami-Dade is asking for this year, even as mile-long lines of voters cast thousands of early ballots for president, says Ion Sancho, Florida's patron saint of fair voting.

"They're risking a lawsuit on Election Day by whoever's disgruntled with the results," says Sancho, supervisor of elections in Leon County and the man chosen to lead the hand recount of Bush and Gore ballots in 2000.

Sancho also led a fight against Diebold's electronic voting machines in 2005, helping to show that the devices were vulnerable to hackers.

The issue this time, Sancho says, is Miami-Dade's instructions to poll watchers, which he fears amount to saying, "Stay put!"

Miami-Dade's manual, which is used to train every election worker, features a chart illustrating how to set up precincts. In a remote corner is a tiny gray box that says, "Poll Watcher and Observer Area." It informs poll workers that observers "must stay in their designated area."

But state law dictates observers must be given free roam of precincts, Sancho says. The only limitation is that they can't "come closer to the officials table or the voting booths than is reasonably necessary."

"We do allow our election watchers to have free reign of the precincts," Sancho says. "If they're limited to one place, I'm not sure they could perform their job."

Miami-Dade elections department officials say there's no issue. No poll watchers at any of the 20 early voting precincts have complained about undue restrictions. And workers will be reminded before November 4 to allow observers to do their job.

"We have reviewed the pages in question and feel that we are in compliance with state law," says Gary Hartfield, who oversees poll-worker training for the county.

Sounds a lot like 2004, when dozens of lawsuits were filed over less substantial issues. And need we even mention Bush v. Gore?

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink