Tues­day to test new elec­tions su­per­vi­sors

Broward, Palm Beach of­fi­cials brought in to clean up after 2018 midterm elec­tions

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By An­thony Man

The new elec­tions su­per­vi­sors in Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties, brought in to clean up elec­tions of­fices whose rep­u­ta­tions were bat­tered dur­ing the 2018 midterm elec­tions, are get­ting their first tests on Tues­day.

If any­thing goes wrong, vot­ers and elected of­fi­cials are sure to sound the alarm over prospect of prob­lems in the im­por­tant 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Peter An­tonacci, the su­per­vi­sor of elec­tions in Broward, and Wendy Sar­tory Link, the elec­tions su­per­vi­sor in Palm Beach County, know many eyes will be on them. They say

they’re ready for Tues­day’s city, town and vil­lage elec­tions.

“We have done ev­ery­thing we can to be as ready as we can be,” Link said. “I think it’s fair to say it’s a test.” Her of­fice is run­ning elec­tions in 16 com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing high-pro­file con­tests for mayor of Boyn­ton Beach and West Palm Beach.

In Broward, where many lo­cal gov­ern­ments have shifted their vot­ing to Novem­ber elec­tions, seven

com­mu­ni­ties have con­tests on Tues­day — in­clud­ing some ref­er­en­dums in Fort Laud­erdale and Hol­ly­wood that would re­sult in higher taxes if ap­proved.

“From the point of view of the vot­ers, I don’t see any prob­lem at all. I think it’s go­ing to be pretty smooth,” An­tonacci said. Since it’s his first Elec­tion Day as su­per­vi­sor, “for my part I’m go­ing to be on my toes all day.”

For An­tonacci, a suc­cess­ful Elec­tion Day means “that we have min­i­mal com­plaints at the precincts, and that we have our elec­tion re­sults an­nounced timely.”

Link of­fered a sim­i­lar mea­sure of suc­cess: “That we are timely, ac­cu­rate, and that ei­ther we had no is­sues at the polling lo­ca­tions or that they were promptly re­solved if some­thing un­avoid­able oc­curred.”

Warm-up for 2020

Com­pared to next year, the Tues­day con­tests are more like a quick sum­mer af­ter­noon rain shower — and the pres­i­den­tial con­test is like a Cat­e­gory 5 hur­ri­cane.

In the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, al­most 844,000 Broward vot­ers cast bal­lots. Four months later, in the

2017, mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions,

21,500 were cast. In Palm Beach County, 662,000 voted in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, com­pared to

45,300 the fol­low­ing March.

“You can’t com­pare pres­i­den­tial elec­tions to midterm elec­tions, and you can’t com­pare pres­i­den­tial elec­tions to mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions,” said Michael Bar­nett, chair­man of the Palm Beach County Repub­li­can Party. “It’s not as widespread as in a statewide or pres­i­den­tial.”

“Vol­ume-wise, [Tues­day] is a drop in the bucket com­pared to what we should see in 2020,” said Richard Gior­gio, a Demo­cratic con­sul­tant whose firm Pa­triot Games is based in West Palm Beach.

Still, he said, the mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions are a “learn­ing op­por­tu­nity and a way of get­ting bet­ter pre­pared for what’s to come in 2020.”

Past prob­lems

Nor­mally, the lo­cal elec­tions would be lit­tle more than an af­ter­thought, ex­cept for peo­ple who live in the af­fected com­mu­ni­ties.

But Tues­day’s elec­tions are the first since the midterm elec­tions that were marked by tur­moil in Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties, where vote count­ing dragged on and the pace of re­counts was glacial.

Palm Beach County didn’t fin­ish re­count­ing votes from the Nov. 6 elec­tion un­til after Christ­mas. In Broward, the elec­tions Can­vass­ing Board was told 11 days after the elec­tion that 2,040 bal­lots had gone miss­ing, and were likely some­where in Elec­tions Of­fice voter count­ing build­ing.

The elected county su­per­vi­sors of elec­tions in both coun­ties lost their jobs. Broward Elec­tions Su­per­vi­sor Brenda Snipes re­signed, and then-Gov. Rick Scott sus­pended her be­fore she was ready to leave, ap­point­ing An­tonacci to re­place her in Novem­ber.

New Gov. Ron DeSan­tis sus­pended Palm Beach County Su­per­vi­sor of Elec­tions Su­san Bucher in Jan­uary, and ap­pointed Link to take over. Both have pledged to re­vamp the of­fices — and not to run for the of­fices them­selves in 2020.

New su­per­vi­sors

An­tonacci and Link both came to their new jobs with ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in gov­ern­ment agen­cies and the po­lit­i­cal world.

An­tonacci was a gen­eral coun­sel to for­mer Repub­li­can Gov. Rick Scott, deputy to for­mer Demo­cratic At­tor­ney Gen­eral Bob But­ter­worth, had a stint run­ning South Florida Wa­ter Man­age­ment Dis­trict, and served as ap­pointed Palm Beach County State At­tor­ney, among other jobs.

Link has served on the state univer­sity sys­tem’s Board of Gover­nors and as a trustee of Palm Beach State Col­lege. She’s also been chair­woman of the in­flu­en­tial Eco­nomic Coun­cil of the Palm Beaches.

Both are lawyers. Both were picked by Repub­li­can gover­nors to re­place Demo­cratic elec­tions su­per­vi­sors. Nei­ther has ex­pe­ri­ence run­ning elec­tions.

Elec­tion prep

Since their ap­point­ments, An­tonacci and Link have spent much of their time learn­ing the me­chan­ics of elec­tions, pre­par­ing for the mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions on Tues­day, and plan­ning for 2020 — when they will be re­spon­si­ble for the pres­i­den­tial pref­er­ence pri­maries and an­other round of mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions, sum­mer­time pri­maries for state and lo­cal of­fices, and the Novem­ber pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

An­tonacci said he’s re­vamped man­age­ment of the Broward elec­tions of­fice, which he de­scribed as an­ti­quated. Lack of cross-train­ing of em­ploy­ees has re­sulted in staff short­ages and bot­tle­necks at crit­i­cal times, he has said.

“This [elec­tion] cy­cle is more about restor­ing self­con­fi­dence and morale, that we’ve got the chops to do what needs to be done,” An­tonacci said. “I hope that I’ve de­liv­ered a bolt of en­thu­si­asm into peo­ple so that they want to work hard. Frankly, there’s a lot of good, pro­fes­sional peo­ple who want to do good work for the vot­ers in this com­mu­nity.”

An­tonacci said re­cruit­ing the nec­es­sary poll work­ers, truck driv­ers and other tem­po­rary work­ers — about 1,600 for Tues­day — is harder than it should be be­cause the agency has a bad rep­u­ta­tion when it comes to pay­ing its work­ers.

He said it’s taken a month for some em­ploy­ees to get paid after pre­vi­ous elec­tions, and in 2018 some poll work­ers’ checks bounced.

On Tues­day, he said, he’s or­dered that poll work­ers get checks for their day of work Tues­day by the time their shifts end. Be­ing seen as a re­li­able em­ployer that pays its work­ers in a timely fash­ion will make it eas­ier for the agency to re­cruit work­ers in the fu­ture, he said.

Link said she’s been work­ing on chang­ing the cul­ture of the Palm Beach County of­fice to fo­cus on cus­tomer ser­vice.

Nei­ther has gone on a fir­ing spree. They’ve kept al­most all the em­ploy­ees in­her­ited from their pre­de­ces­sors.

The Broward elec­tions of­fice has 70 staffers, and An­tonacci said there has been a turnover of five peo­ple. Two of eight de­part­ment heads are gone.

The Palm Beach County of­fice has 50 em­ploy­ees. “I walked in here and rec­og­nized that they know a lot more about elec­tions right now than I do,” she said. “I don’t in­tend to change the staff if I don’t have to.”

She said there would be cross-train­ing so cus­tomers have a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence. Some staffers will get more of a voter ed­u­ca­tion and out­reach fo­cus.

Votes of con­fi­dence

County Com­mis­sioner Michael Udine, a Demo­crat, one of three mem­bers of the Elec­tions Can­vass­ing Board in Broward, said he was very crit­i­cal about the way re­cent elec­tions were run.

Udine said he has “a high level of con­fi­dence” in the way An­tonacci is op­er­at­ing. “I think ev­ery­body’s do­ing a great job.”

The Demo­cratic Party chair­women in Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties couldn’t be reached for com­ment about the new elec­tions su­per­vi­sors.

Repub­li­can chair­men Bar­nett in Palm Beach County and Ge­orge Mo­raitis in Broward lauded the per­for­mance of the new su­per­vi­sors.

In Palm Beach County, Gior­gio said he was con­cerned when the gov­er­nor re­moved Bucher about “whether some­one could step in at that late date and still co­or­di­nate a suc­cess­ful [elec­tion]. And so far, they seem to have done just fine.”


Palm Beach County Su­per­vi­sor of Elec­tions Wendy Sar­tory Link holds the last pre-elec­tion meet­ing with her se­nior staff on Fri­day.

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