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Lawsuit challenges plausibility of Fla. vote for slot machines

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP)–A pair of grassroots citizen groups have filed suit in Florida against the Broward County election canvassing board, asking that a judge order a recount of votes that swung a statewide election in favor of slot machines.

No Casinos, Inc., and the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida also named Brenda Snipes, supervisor of elections in the south Florida county, as a defendant. The suit was filed just in time to meet a Nov. 15 deadline to challenge the results for Amendment 4, allowing residents of Broward and neighboring Miami-Dade counties to hold referendums on whether to place slots at seven racetracks and jai alai venues.

State Rep. Randy Johnson, chairman of No Casinos, said the lawsuit could have been avoided had Broward County election officials granted their request for a recount after a questionable, last-minute swing in the count.

“We’re all human; we all make mistakes,” Johnson said in a Nov. 15 telephone news conference. “But how do you respond afterwards? Do you purposely try to hide those mistakes until the last second, when you can’t [hide them] anymore?

“Forget about the pundits and proponents,” he said. “How does the average person feel about Broward County elections with this string of things happening … that when you put them together, cause you to scratch your head?”

Johnson was referring to the sudden change in the results after the Nov. 2 election. For most of two days after the balloting, Amendment 4 – which had been trailing by 6,000 to 10,000 votes – bolted to a 127,000-vote lead. It ultimately prevailed by 93,000 votes.

The lawsuit noted that Broward County didn’t discover a mass of uncounted absentee ballots until 90 minutes after a Nov. 4 deadline set by the secretary of state for posting non-certified results.

Officials attributed the last-minute discovery to a glitch in computer software that left numerous ballots uncounted. Of the 78,000 votes it said it discovered, the “yes” column wound up with 74,000. Johnson called that a statistical anomaly.

No Casinos chairman said the group has consulted experts who verified the possibility of that kind of result is extremely unlikely; in laymen’s terms he called it a “one in a million” probability.

“That is the primary unexplained phenomenon that happened that no one is willing to talk to us about,” Johnson said. “Couple that with the timing –- the fact it was basically hidden from the public until 1:40 p.m.” on Nov. 4.

Johnson acknowledged that even if a judge voided all the absentees from Broward, opponents of slot machines would still lose.

However, he said invalidating questionable votes could reduce the margin of passage below half a percent, which would trigger a statewide recount.

“If there is something nefarious going on, it will continue to lend credibility to our feeling that we’re dealing with people who don’t play by the rules,” Johnson said.

He said gambling forces did anything they could to win, including airing an onslaught of misleading advertisements that made it appear Florida already had slot machines and the vote was simply a question of whether to tax them.

“We’re going to hold them accountable for their actions,” Johnson said. “If they’ve done something here, we’re going to find out. If they haven’t, that’s good. We frankly hope they haven’t.”

The lawsuit notes that state law mandates that if a county canvassing board determines that unofficial returns may contain a counting error it must correct the miscue and recount the affected ballots, or request the Department of State to verify the vote tabulation software.

The suit alleges that Broward’s canvassing board abused its discretion by failing to conduct a manual recount or ask the state to verify its software. The simplest way to ensure an accurate vote tally on Amendment 4 was to recount the absentees and compare the results to the previous count to see if the totals matched, the suit says.

Since that wasn’t done, the suit argues that the count remains in question. It asks that a judge -– none has been selected yet to hear the case –- order a recount and exclude any illegal votes. If the outcome changes, it also asks the court to set aside the results on Amendment 4 in favor of an accurate vote.

Asked by Baptist Press whether public sentiment is to let the issue drop or press the case, Johnson said he thinks the public wants to have faith in the election system.

But with the questions swirling around Amendment 4, such as the billions of dollars at stake and a string of actions that profit the county in question, it begs the question, he said.

“It really is an issue of fairness,” Johnson said. “We’re guarding the gate on this issue. We feel obligated to have these questions answered so there is nobody running around, scratching their heads.

“If there was a good answer for this, we would be the first to let it go and move on,” Johnson added. “There are many other places to fight this war. This was a battle but the war continues.”

Heather Veleanu, managing director of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, which opposed Amendment 4 over the issue of greyhound racing, said during the Nov. 15 telephone news conference, “As a result of having talked to thousands of Broward County voters who opposed the measure, I’m concerned about the 11th-hour appearance of these very large number of ballots.”

Veleanu, who lives in Broward County, said, “I think it’s essential to the integrity of the election process that this recount be ordered.”

Baptist Press’ attempts to reach the Broward County supervisor of elections for comment Nov. 15 were not successful.

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  • Ken Walker