A candidate for Supervisor of Elections in Broward County, FL, was arrested yesterday, following threats and orders from her opponent, the current Broward SOE, Dr. Brenda Snipes.
Ellen H. Brodsky, the county's first non-partisan candidate for SOE, had previously been barred from public counting and oversight on a number of occasions, at the county's official Canvassing Board site and voting machine warehouse in Lauderhill, Florida.
After being taken into custody yesterday afternoon by three uniformed police officers, Brodsky was held overnight at the Broward County Jail even though the $25 --- that's twenty-five dollar --- bail had been posted for her by her son by 8pm last night. She was finally released well after 5am this morning.
(Note: An account of the arrest posted this morning on the South Florida Sun Sentinel's blog incorrectly reported that Brodsky was "released on bail Thursday evening." A report later filed on their website by the same reporter correctly noted that she "was released from jail at 5:40 a.m. Friday.")
Brodsky is a longtime member of a number of election integrity advocacy groups in Florida, including the Broward Election Reform Coalition, which she also founded. Earlier this year, she determined to run against Snipes as a non-partisan candidate.
Brodsky is the latest in a string of election integrity advocates around the country who have been arrested in the course of attempting oversight of our election procedures --- although she is the first, to our knowledge, who also happens to be a candidate on the ballot.
The action has brought condemnation from a number of other election watchdogs and even other election officials in Florida who have characterized the arrest to The BRAD BLOG as an outrage and an abuse of power by Snipes and her office...
"For a candidate, or a member of the public who wishes nothing more than to observe the process, to be taken into custody would be outrageous absent really extraordinary reasons --- none of which I've heard articulated in this matter," Leon County (Tallahassee) Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho told The BRAD BLOG this afternoon.
"I've been an election official for twenty years. Not even one time has it become necessary to even threaten someone's removal by law enforcement at any kind of meeting that I've ever attended," said Sancho who has spoken with Brodsky "on many occasions" and met her "a couple of times in face to face meetings."
Ellen Theisen, of the non-partisan election integrity watchdog organization VotersUnite.org, was similarly troubled by the arrest.
"It's outrageous that Ellen Brodsky was arrested and kept in jail overnight," Theisen wrote via email today. "Her work toward election integrity in Broward County has been dedicated, creative, effective, and respectful to the law. The idea that she would be 'disruptive' is nonsense. I'm convinced that was fabricated by those who appear to be threatened by her requests for transparency and accountability in the Broward County election process."
Filmmaker David Earnhardt, who earlier this year released the award-winning documentary Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections, calls Brodsky "a remarkable woman who has dedicated the better part of the decade to demanding fair and honest elections."
He told us that she hosted a screening of his film in Fort Lauderdale in late September. "It's offensive that she was arrested for this and kept in jail overnight. I have no doubt that she was assertive in demanding her rights - but it's ridiculous they would have even called the police in the first place, much less arrest her," he said.
Brodsky was arrested, according to the inmate summary she was given upon release (on which her name is misspelled as "Bordsky"), for "TRESPASS/STRUCTURE OR CONVEYANCE" and "DISORDERLY CONDUCT." The bond for the trespass claim was set at $25, no bond amount was attached to the disorderly conduct charge, according to the summary.
"A total abuse of power"
"It was horrible," Brodsky told us by phone today, concerning "the whole process of being in jail overnight."
"The arrest was a total abuse of power on Brenda Snipes' part. She had given the orders. The buck stops with her."
"I didn't do anything. They just want to eliminate any kind of critics," she explained, following a number of weeks when she had occasionally been allowed to monitor testing, counting and recount processes by the county Canvassing Board.
"They wanted to eliminate me from the process, because I'm the only one who is on top of these things. I go out of my way to be an expert on this, to watch what's going on," she said in a detailed recounting of the problems she's faced with Snipes and her deputies over the last several months.
At times she was barred from oversight of testing and counting, other times she was allowed in under strict rules, often accompanied by a number of armed guards, she told us. In the meantime, a number of public records requests she's made have gone unanswered, including information she sought after noticing that voting machines had been opened for use beginning on October 1, even though early voting was not scheduled to begin until weeks later.
During her last visit to the Canvassing Board to monitor counting and the processing of ballots of November 7th, she was evicted after asking a number of questions to Canvassing Board judges, even though she raised her hand, as instructed, and even waited a full hour and a half before being allowed to ask her questions, according to her account.
"The first question I asked on the 7th," she says, Lauderhills officer C.Y. Bell "jumped on me." Literally, she says. "She was standing there the whole time ready to pounce on me. Her taser thing was right in front of my face. It was very scary. She jumped on me, grabbed my arm, she was ready to throw me out then and there."
"Then I screamed 'Help, canvassing board, I didn't do anything.' This was like that 'Don't tase me, bro' thing." she explained. "That got their attention. I then waited an hour and a half, and then they took a break and I reminded her [Judge Zeller, President of the canvassing board] that I was told I could ask a question."
She asked three questions, the last of which concerned why she was not allowed in the building the night before, at 7pm, when she believes the counting board was in session, which should have required the ability for public oversight under Florida's Sunshine Law.
She then says she was ejected from the counting room, and told by Officer Bell, "if If you ever come back here, we'll have a warrant for you. If you ever come back to this voting machine warehouse or canvassing board, we'll have you arrested."
After discussing the matter with her attorney, Brodsky returned yesterday with a friend for a 1pm counting that was listed on the county's website. She says she recorded much of what occurred on her cell phone's recorder.
"We saw the notice on the door, proceeded to ask, 'can we come in?' because the Canvassing Board was supposed to meet at 1pm. But the first thing I was told was 'we don't want you in the building, you're not allowed in the building.' Next I was told the canvassing board is not meeting, even though it was posted on the door, and on the website."
"While I'm trying to inquire about the canvassing board meeting," she says, Snipes deputy Fred Bellis "is busy photographing me, calling on his cell phone to who knows where."
Soon two officers arrived and suggested there was a warrant out for her arrest. But "after they researched, they said 'yeah, there is no warrant out for your arrest.'"
Then Officer Bell arrived, met with the other officers, and "all three, in a concerted effort, handcuff me and throw me into the back of a police car."
Latest in a string of such arrests
Brodsky's arrest is the latest such detention of an election integrity advocate.
In September, activist John Brakey of AuditAZ was arrested during a mandatory post-election "audit" in Pima County (Tucson), AZ, after questioning officials about dozens of ballot bags that had missing or broken security seals.
In August, Phil Lindsey of ShowMeTheVote.org was arrested and thrown in jail in Jackson County, MO, when he refused to show a photo ID to pollworkers who had wrongly insisted he could not vote without one. The demand by the election officials was in violation of state law.
"I will tell you, my feeling from a lot of officials is they don't like being questioned," explained Tallahassee's Sancho, who was chosen by the Florida Supreme Court to oversee the 2000 Presidential recount in the state.
"I would caution officials over the removal of any observer from the elections process, because only by keeping the process as open as possible can we maintain credibility within the elections process," he says.
"Elections officials in Florida," he continued, "really are uniquely placed, because of the power we have over the process --- and it's pretty immense --- so there's a tendency, a lot of times, for election officials to act in an autocratic manner. I'm not saying [Snipes] did, but it wouldn't surprise me."
"The power that we as elected officials have, has to be used very, very, very judiciously," he added.
"What this has to be about is, fundamentally, the process. Quite frankly, I've never found the use of police powers an effective answer to people who are looking for the truth," Sancho told us.
For Brodsky, she now wonders what will become of her ability to oversee her own election which, according to the results reported by officials, show that she lost in a landslide. "It was a difficult time to run as an independent, with Barack Obama on the ballot," she noted. Her opponent, Snipes, ran as a Democrat, though she was originally appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush (R) after he suspended her predecessor in 2003.
But it's now virtually impossible for Brodsky to know if her election was conducted fairly. "I'm gonna have a hard time auditing my own election if I'm not allowed to be there, and if my public records requests aren't getting answered," she said.
Additional note, it was too late this afternoon on the West Coast to contact Snipes for her point of view on all of this, but we refer you again to the Sun-Sentinel's coverage for some of that here and here.
UPDATE 12/9/08: A video tape of the arrest --- revealing just how outrageous that it was, and that there was, in fact, no "disorderly conduct" by Brodsky, as speciously claimed by the arrest report --- is now posted here...
UPDATE 3/11/09: All charges are dropped against Brodsky. Details now here...