In 2000, the presidential race came down to the wire — George W. Bush won the election by a margin of just 537 votes in Florida, which guaranteed him victory in the electoral college. The rest, as they say, is history.
This year's election could be just as tight: A recent poll by the University of North Florida's Public Opinion Research Lab shows President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden neck-and-neck in Florida.
In Miami-Dade, vote-by-mail ballots were sent out at the beginning of October, and in-person early voting began last Monday. For the past two weeks, the Miami-Dade County Canvassing Board has been meeting to review all ballots that have been found to be invalid.
But while the county is live-streaming those meetings via Zoom, the elections department isn't archiving the videos for posterity. In other words, once each day's Zoom conference comes to an end, the discussions about the invalid ballots might be lost forever.
Suzy Trutie, Miami-Dade's deputy supervisor of elections, says no law requires the county to record the canvassing board's meetings, which are open to members of the public who want to observe them in person. If the county were to record the meetings, Trutie says, it would then have to archive, retain, and preserve them as dictated by state law.
"It would add to our administrative procedures, as far as the retention of it," Trutie explains. "For us to do that, it makes no sense."
What made no sense to New Times was the fact that, despite the lessons of Bush v. Gore , a series of decisions that might significantly affect the 2020 presidential election tally in Florida aren't being recorded.
So, going forward, we've decided to post the canvassing board's livestreams on our own Facebook page — where they'll be archived for whoever wants to watch them. Beginning today at 10 a.m., anyone can visit our Facebook page and watch the meetings, which will take place through November.
While the county is not legally obligated to record the canvassing board meetings, state law does require elections departments to maintain official meeting minutes.
Or, as Trutie puts it: "There is no recording because the law only requires us to take notes of the meeting."
Those meeting minutes are available to anyone who files a public records request. But, as Miami documentary filmmaker Billy Corben recently found out, the minutes don't always go into detail about why a particular ballot was put in the "invalid" bin.
Corben is the director of 537 Votes, a new HBO documentary about the 2000 Florida recount debacle. Much of the film incorporates footage of the Miami-Dade County Canvassing Board that was shot by news crews at the time.
After HBO released the documentary last week, Corben was alerted by some 2020 canvassing board observers about a particular ballot that was thrown out in Miami-Dade on Wednesday, October 21. According to Corben's sources, the voter had filled in three bubbles in the presidential race and drawn a slash over two of them. The voter had also scrawled "Biden/Harris" on the ballot.
Corben wanted to see for himself, so he asked the county for a recording of the meeting. When he found out the meetings weren't being recorded, he requested the minutes.
The official written record of the meeting contains only one line about the ballot, which was discussed beginning at 1:35 p.m.: "Biden campaign objects to CB ruling #N062-1-1109; objection overruled."
In an email to Corben, Trutie confirmed that the voter had filled out three bubbles for the presidential race and "manually wrote the name of a presidential candidate."
Corben calls the written minutes of the meeting "woefully inadequate."
"They're highly under-representative of the actual material disputes and the arguments being made by either party about some of these problem ballots," he says.
According to the minutes from last Wednesday's meeting, a total of 328 ballots were reviewed that day to determine the voter's intent — meaning the counting machines were unable to determining the voter's selections. The board took about three and a half hours to sort through them all.
"This is where the sausage is getting made," Corben says. "For all of the media coverage of debates, of lines outside polling places, the election's actually being determined in these rooms, particularly in Florida."
Corben says that while he understands the extra work that would be involved for the elections department to record and retain the Zoom videos, he thinks it would be worth the trouble.
"I understand that they are very much following the letter of the law, which I certainly respect, but I think if there was ever any occasion on which to go perhaps above and beyond, this would be it," he says.
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