The lame duck tenure of Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore is becoming as contentious as her post-“butterfly ballot” era.
The woman who dealt with more than 50 lawsuits as chief of the county’s election department has to handle at least one more before she leaves office on Jan. 3.
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Failing to comply
Black Box Voting, a Washington-based nonprofit elections watchdog group, filed suit against LePore this week, accusing her of failing to comply with a request for documents related to the Nov. 2, 2004 election.
LePore, however, said she was in touch with Bev Harris, executive director of Black Box Voting, just before Thanksgiving. “I told her we were estimating the cost of providing the documents. Once we got their check, I said we would start making the copies,” she told the Boca Raton News on Wednesday. The price tag could run from $3,000 to $5,000.
But the organization didn’t wait. It filed suit in Palm Beach County Circuit Court on Tuesday.
Leaders of the organization actually pursued LePore to Orlando, where she is attending a conference for election supervisors. They delivered the lawsuit Tuesday night, interrupting a reception where LePore was being honored as she prepares to leave office.
Harris said the group sneaked in through a kitchen to the rear of the reception room.
She went to the podium and introduced herself to the crowd. LePore said the audience at first thought it was a skit.
Harris said she turned to LePore and said, “Since we can’t get your attention any other way, I’m serving you with a courtesy copy of the lawsuit we served in your office this morning.”
Harris said LePore refused to take the lawsuit, so she set it on the table in front of the outgoing supervisor. LePore, however, said that she simply turned her back on Harris when she saw she was being maligned.
“There were 67 supervisors in the room and they picked me because they knew they would get national publicity,” said LePore. “And they did. I’ve been getting calls from all over the country.”
Security officers were called, but the Black Box visitors left before they arrived.
According to Harris, Black Box Voting has identified 13 Florida counties that allegedly failed to comply with public records requests.
In the suit, Black Box Voting “demands” access to records in LePore’s office. Among these are “notes, emails and memos regarding problems with the voting system, ballots and voter registrations” between Oct. 12 and Nov. 3.
The suit says the group initially asked for the material at 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 2, then again on Nov. 22 and 23, and finally, asked the county attorney on Nov. 29. The group said it received no response, said Harris.
“We got their request the night of Nov. 2,” LePore said. “I don’t know if I saw it. We were kind of busy that night.”
She said she did contact Harris and told her a staff person “would get back to her with a cost estimate. She [Harris] said she wanted it right now, so my staff person said we’ll see you in court.”
Black Box Voting’s suit says the data it wants “are diagnostic audit records to ascertain whether computer documents and logs show discrepancies between the reported vote count and voting machine records.”
The organization has been on a fraud audit mission in various parts of the country. Leaders said it has filed a lawsuit in Volusia County and is also calling for fraud audits in Ohio, New Mexico and parts of Georgia and Arizona.
Taking a cue from this year’s two-week early voting period, supervisors of elections meeting this week in Orlando are proposing to do away with a single Election Day in favor of an 11-day election period.
Under that plan, which must be approved by the state legislature, voters could cast ballots over a span of several days or weeks.
An estimated 2.3 million people cast ballots during the 15-day early voting period this year.
However, because of the overwhelming response, voters had to wait sometimes for hours in long lines to cast their ballots.
Instead of being assigned to a precinct, voters would be allowed to cast their ballots at “voting centers” throughout the county.
To prevent crowds, those voting centers would be staffed with more personnel and voting machines than were assigned during the early voting period.
State Sen. Ron Klein said he doesn’t feel Election Day should be done away with, but early voting should be refined and improved.