As the counting of mail-in ballots started in Broward on Monday, election officials and backers of the statewide amendment on medical marijuana verified no additional absentee ballots were missing the question.
Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes allowed reporters and United for Care, a political committee backing Amendment 2, to observe the first 40 minutes of workers opening up the ballots at the elections warehouse in Lauderhill. They started with the Oakland Park ballots, since the two verified reports of ballots missing the medical marijuana question came from that city.
After watching county officials examine the Oakland Park ballots, United for Care campaign manager Ben Pollara said that he had some additional confidence that the vast majority of voters in Broward received a complete ballot containing the medical marijuana question.
“Not a single new ballot missing Amendment 2 was found this morning,” Pollara said at a news conference outside the elections warehouse Monday morning. “We are hopeful about that. ... It does not seem to be anymore widespread than what the supervisor believed to be Friday. We feel pretty good about it.”
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People hired by the elections office to open ballots were instructed to check each ballot to verify that Amendment 2 was there and, if not, flag down an elections official and set the ballot aside. After 40 minutes, no such faulty ballot was found.
However, Debbi Ballard, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, told the Miami Herald when she completed her ballot at ArtServe at about noon Monday, she realized that it was missing Amendment 2.
“I brought it to the attention of a staff member,” Ballard said. “She verified it was in fact missing Amendment 2. ... They reprinted the ballot and brought it to me.”
Ballard said that her initial ballot — which she said poll workers had trouble printing out — had Amendment 1 on one page and then Amendment 3 on another page, skipping Amendment 2. Her second version had Amendments 1 and 2 on the same page.
Ballard said that when she left, she told voters waiting in line outside of ArtServe to make sure they had a complete ballot.
“The polling site manager tried to chase me off location and called security on me,” she said.
Tonya Edwards, spokeswoman for Snipes, said Monday night that it was a printing error.
“When it was printing it printed two parts of the ballot on the same page. It was a misprinting of the ballot due to humidity and the moisture,” she said. “It was very faint — you could not see Amendment 2 on her ballot. They gave her a replacement ballot.”
Edwards said about 31,000 people voted early Monday and that Ballard was the only one who had a ballot where Amendment 2 was not visible.
Last week, Snipes verified that two voters in Oakland Park — Anne and Steve Sallee — had received ballots with the question missing. That set off a frenzy of questions by supporters and critics of the amendment as well as the media about whether additional ballots were missing the marijuana question.
Snipes said Friday that she wasn’t certain how those two voters received ballots without the marijuana question or exactly how many additional voters could have the same problem. However, she said that she believed that the two voters mistakenly received test ballots created by her office when it recoded the ballots for Oakland Park after a candidate dropped out. That test ballot omitted the medical marijuana question and Snipes’ office didn’t catch that error. Test ballots are not supposed to be sent to voters. Snipes said at a maximum her office made seven of those particular test ballots.
So far, about 76,000 voters in Broward have mailed in their completed ballots. On Friday, Snipes said that about 1,300 from Oakland Park had requested a ballot.
At the end of the day Monday, Edwards said that no additional absentee ballots were found that omitted Amendment 2.
“We opened over 18,000 ballots today and we didn’t find any” that were missing the amendment language, she said.
Last Thursday, lawyer Norm Kent sued Snipes over the faulty ballots. Kent and an attorney for Snipes, Burnadette Norris-Weeks, are expected to appear before Broward Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Kent wants the judge to review all 92 ballot styles in Broward and confirm they contain the medical marijuana question. On Friday, Snipes allowed reporters and United for Care to review all the different ballot styles, which vary across the county depending upon where voters live.
“I’m not out to create a ruckus,” Kent said Monday. “I just want a resolution.”
Polls show that it is likely that the amendment will receive the 60 percent support needed to amend the Florida Constitution.