The second-most populous county in the third-most populous state is known for election-related controversy, especially when it comes to making sure all votes are counted.
Are the problems a result of corruption? Incompetence? Or indifference by the overwhelmingly Democratic voters, citizens and leaders in Broward County?
Different people will offer different answers to explain why it has been so difficult to find someone to run the Broward Supervisor of Elections office in a way that inspires trust and confidence.
For example, a Democratic Broward Supervisor of Elections was removed by a Republican governor in 2003. She was replaced by another Democratic Supervisor of Elections, who was also removed by a GOP governor in 2018.
What follows is an email interview with one of a handful of Democrats who wants to run the office next year, when the Republican appointee will step down. This interview appears as the outgoing supervisor, Peter Antonacci, has agreed to cooperate with a nonpartisan group of citizen auditors in the 2020 elections.
- Your first name is Chad. Hanging chads, in South Florida, in the 2000 presidential election, made news around the world. What does the hanging chad debacle say about the need for supervisors of elections to maintain election equipment properly?
The 2000 debacle demonstrates we must do our best to anticipate challenges before they arise in an effort to make the voting experience as seamless as possible. Whether it is the hanging chad or the glitchy app in Iowa, we have seen time and time again that poor planning results in confidence in the system being undermined and this has a negative effect on turnout.
- South Florida made news a second way in the 2000 presidential election. That’s when studies showed thousands of elderly Jewish voters may have voted for Pat Buchanan, even though they meant to vote for Al Gore. Those possible lost Gore votes gave the election to George Bush, the Republican who narrowly defeated Gore, the Democrat. What does this problem in neighbouring Palm Beach County say about the need for supervisors of elections to design ballots so that voters understand them?
Ironically, the reason Palm Beach County used its now infamous “butterfly ballot” was because their Supervisor of Elections was trying to make the voting experience easier for elderly voters by increasing the font size. Problems that have occurred in Broward and Palm Beach underscore the need for the Supervisors of Elections to not only have a well-honed attention to detail but also to share proposed ballot designs with community leaders and the public at large so there is sufficient time for folks to provide comments and identify issues before they arise at the polls. I should note though that much of the ballot design process is driven by state statute.
- In 2018, possibly thousands of voters in Broward County did not vote in the U.S. Senate race, again because of an alleged faulty ballot design. What will you do if elected to make sure Broward County voters will be looking at ballots that are easy to read and understand? Are there outside, independent experts you can consult? Will you?
The election code was updated last year to prevent the design in question from being permitted under the law. I would welcome independent experts, as well as the public, to provide feedback to ensure that ballots are as easy to read and understand as possible.
- All of the candidates for Broward Supervisor of Elections are Democrats. At least two of the candidates have extensive experience working for the Democratic Party in Broward. This background may give them an advantage in attracting supporters, contributions and voters. In contrast, you are a 26-year-old Broward native. Do you see any advantages to your background? If so, what are they?
While I am a lifelong Democrat and proudly served in the Obama White House, I maintain that both my age and my independence from local party politics uniquely suit me for this role. Not only do we need someone in the job who has the energy, enthusiasm and creativity to get people engaged in the process, but we also need someone without an overtly partisan history so confidence in the process can be restored in the minds of all voters.
- Jeh Johnson, the Homeland Security chief in the Obama Administration, endorsed you recently. Did you meet him when you interned in the Obama Administration? Or did you get to know Johnson when you worked at the New York City law firm where he is a partner?
I met Secretary Johnson while working at Paul, Weiss. I am honored to have Secretary Johnson’s support at a time when election security is top of mind for many voters. When he served at the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Johnson designated election infrastructure as “critical infrastructure,” opening up a federal funding source for election security and integrity programs.
- Election security is an important issue after the documented Russian attack on our 2016 elections. Have you talked with election security experts? Can you name some of them? What have they suggested you do if you are elected Supervisor of Elections in Broward County?
In addition to Secretary Johnson, I have met with almost 30 Supervisors of Elections (some of whom had a tech/security background) and a few election integrity experts. While there are many initiatives I am interested in bringing to Broward, my top priorities are daily backups of voter registration logs, improved firewall technology on our tabulators and reporting systems and biometric scanning (fingerprints) security technology in the office, which other counties have installed as a result of Department of Homeland Security grants.
- Voter suppression is an important issue. Can you give me some specific examples of voter suppression that you have witnessed in Florida? In other parts of the country? What can you do if you are elected Supervisor of Elections to speak out against this anti-democratic effort? Will you also have the platform to testify in the Legislature, lobby your fellow supervisors of elections and propose concrete solutions? If so, what are some of those solutions?
Voter suppression is very much a reality in Florida. The roll-out of Amendment 4, a voter-approved initiative that restored voting rights to those with felony convictions, was implemented in a manner that amounts to a poll tax. People serving in elected office who feel the only way they can retain their power is by suppressing the vote have no business holding elected office. Severe gerrymandering and requiring folks to register to vote 29 days in advance of the election are other ways in which the votes of Floridians are regularly suppressed. However, as Supervisor of Elections, I would have no choice but to follow the law.
One of the reasons I am excited at the prospect of serving as Supervisor of Elections in a place as large as Broward is that I will have a platform – on the local, state and federal levels – to speak out on the various voting rights issues I care about. I also intend to be active in the State Association of Supervisors of Elections, which regularly lobbies the legislature for electoral reforms.
- You led a Broward County group that worked with school-age children to get them interested in voting. What can you do to make the system more available to young people and other Broward County citizens who have not registered or voted?
We must engage people when they are young. When I say that, I do not mean when they are eligible to register to vote. I mean that we engage them starting in elementary school through mock elections and the like. In some counties across the state, first graders are using the same voting equipment we use on Election Day to learn about the voting process. In Osceola County, there is a civics curriculum designed by the Supervisor of Elections office that has been integrated into the local schools. We can do these things in Broward and it wouldn’t cost a lot of money.
We also need to make voter registration more accessible. We do this by increasing our presence in the community and extending office hours in the days leading up to the voter registration deadline, including staying open on a couple of weekend days. I have also called for free transit to the polls.
- You travelled the state to visit all 67 supervisors of elections offices. Please name some of the best practices that you observed and want to bring to Broward County.
The best run offices have uniformity in process, meaning that each function of the office has a corresponding procedure or manual that, when feasible, is made publicly available so the office can be held accountable. Another aspect of a well-run office is its website, which speaks to a much broader point about a customer-oriented voting experience. We need to enhance the Broward elections website so it offers a user-friendly, accessible experience that gives people the information they need.
- This question comes late in the interview. But can you tell me about your diverse background. I believe you have written a screenplay, in which your sister, the actress on Blue Bloods, performed. You also worked for a prominent Manhattan law firm. And you will be the first openly LGBTQ Supervisor of Elections in Florida if you win. How does this diverse background inform your actions if you get the chance to run the election division in Broward County?
We need people from diverse backgrounds representing one of the most diverse places in the United States. My eclectic combination of public and private sector experiences uniquely equip me to serve as Supervisor of Elections at a time when the office could use a fresh start. My varied experiences have one thing in common – I could not have done any of them without having a well-honed attention to detail. Because when you are writing/co-producing a multi-million-dollar film at Netflix or putting together a billion dollar securities deal or planning events at the White House, there is no room for error. That’s the kind of background we should expect in a Supervisor of Elections. But we also need someone with the energy and creativity required to restore faith in the process and get the public – especially young people – excited about voting.
And as possibly the first LGBTQ constitutional officer in the State of Florida, I hope to be the kind of public servant I could have used as a role model growing up. When we are seen and represented as a community, our voices are amplified. I also hope to transform the Supervisor of Elections office into an inclusive work environment that is a true model for LGBTQ equality in a state where there is still so much work to be done.