Monday, August 16, 2010

Another Victory – This Time in Miami-Dade; or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Precinct

I’ll be serving as the Clerk in charge of a precinct in the Florida primary election next week on the 24th of August. There’s a question about the legal sufficiency of Miami-Dade’s planned procedures.

I went to pollworker training the other day and the funny thing happened. The trainers announced that we would no longer have to perform “ballot accounting.” That’s great except it’s completely illegal – and a collapse of a fundamental step in election integrity.

Ballot accounting is performed immediately after the polls close. It’s an inventory of how many voters voted in a precinct compared to how many ballots were cast. The signatures in the precinct registers are counted and compared to the number of ballots. The two numbers should match, i.e. there should be one ballot for each voter allowed to vote.

It’s done prior to mixing together the totals from other precincts so problems can be isolated and reconciled right away.

It must be done by the sworn pollworkers in that precinct, called “the election board,” so there is accountability. The public is allowed to observe the procedures after the polls are closed, so there is transparency.

If there are discrepancies, signatures and ballots must be recounted, and reasons for the discrepancies must be investigated and reported on a form. All that is clearly laid out in Florida law.

Ballot accounting is also a big pain. It’s a fussy job that comes at the end of a 15+ hour day.

So it’s understandable that Miami-Dade, with more than a million registered voters, 500+ polling places, 4,000+ elections workers on election night, tried to streamline the process. They just went too far.

I wrote to my friend, Supervisor of Elections, Lester Sola, who is an excellent administrator, to inquire about the change. I copied Interim Secretary of State Dawn Roberts, given her newfound responsibilities that come with the 2010 Legislature’s conveying preemptive authority over virtually the entire election code to the state, which means it’s her bailiwick.

They both know I’ve been part of major studies of ballot accounting in Florida in the past and understand it pretty well. They both wrote back assuring me that Miami-Dade’s procedures meet or exceed state law. Supervisor Sola, however, added a conflicting paragraph. He wrote:

“As you are aware, the practice in the state has been to allow poll workers to physically count signatures and compare them to the number of voted ballots, a volume that is often times in the thousands. [Note: It’s more than “practice;” it’s also law.] Additionally, multiple-page ballots can make the task at hand even more daunting. In the past, you brought to my attention the fact that some of the Clerks and precinct staff were incorrectly counting the number of voters or ballots. We took this concern seriously and relieved Clerks and other precinct staff from conducting this task in subsequent elections." [emphasis added]
That admission didn’t jive with the “meets or exceeds” declarations so one is left to wonder whether they’re going to follow the law and sound practice or not. Also, one doesn’t want to go screaming from the rooftops that elections are illegal and insecure because, while technically correct perhaps, it can also serve to disproportionately damage voter confidence and drive away voters.

Then I got my Clerk’s packet from the Elections Department on Friday. It contained a “Clerk’s Manual Addendum.” It began with the following:

Tuesday Night
• Voter Authorization slips must be counted and recorded on Certificate No.2
• Please ensure that all discrepancies between signatures, Voter Authorization Slips and the Public Count are recorded on the Incident Report Log”
That means we’re to do ballot accounting at the precinct after all. The changes don’t make it perfect but they do appear to return to substantial compliance with Florida law and good practice.

There’s that quote, routinely attributed to Thomas Jefferson but really from John Philpot Curran:

“The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance”
Please don’t forget to support Florida Voters’ work. It’s difficult and time consuming but important to us all.


  1. Well done and thank you for doing your part!

  2. Public count is the number of ballots cast on the voting machine, not the number of ballots distributed to the precincts. This is not a complete precinct count, nobody is counting the actual ballots.

  3. Anon,

    Indeed, even giving Elections the benefit of the doubt, the Addendum instructions do not ensure ballot accounting will be conducted properly. It will be dependent on further adjustments to forms, directions, and the performance of pollworkers.

    The public can help by going to a precinct at 7:00 PM to observe the poll-closing procedures. This is the case anywhere in Florida - not just Miami-Dade. People wanting more information on how to observe poll-closing procedures can contact me for additional information at or 305-984-2900.