President Donald Trump called it right from the beginning: the integrity of Election Day is being eroded every day by conniving officials in Pennsylvania and other states who are supposed to be nonpartisan but are acting otherwise.
In 2018, I volunteered and was selected by then-Gov. Rick Scott to be a Republican observer in Leon County on the vote recount in the U.S. Senate and state Agriculture commissioner races. Though I am a conservative Democrat, the governor trusted me to help the GOP team as we examined any questionable ballots. I was probably the only Democrat on a Republican recount team anywhere in Florida that year.
I am proud of my service because I wanted to learn how the recount process works and I knew that Leon County Elections Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley, a protégé of iconic Elections Supervisor Ian Sancho, would run an extremely professional and competent process. Sure enough, that was the case. Consequently, the entire process was calm, punctual and both parties had ample and, more importantly, easy access to watching the ballots being recounted.
Earley set up tables in a large room and both Democratic and Republican recount observers could go to any table and watch what was happening. First and foremost, all of us observers were within six inches of the table. Every ballot was reviewed by all of the observers. If we all said we had no issues with a specific ballot, it was put into one box. If anyone had any questions or concerns, rather than arguing the issue there, the ballot was put into another box–the “?” box–to be reviewed later in a more comprehensive fashion.
The most important issue was asking “is voter intent clearly marked?” Interestingly, some voters would make marks next to say a couple of candidates’ names but would ultimately circle or fill in the bubble for just one of them. In that case, voter intent was clear. But, in some cases, voters would circle two names in the same race without any further marks. In those cases, voter intent was clearly not discernable. In many cases, especially in the Agricultural commissioner race, particularly on the Republican side, many voters skipped the race entirely. On the other hand, there were ballots where Democrats only voted for governor (Andrew Gillum was the nominee) and in the Agriculture commissioner race because they knew Nikki Fried’s position in favor of marijuana, including expanding its medical uses.
Once the counters and observers finished all the ballots assigned to them, the “?” box was taken to a secure place. We then went to other tables and joined other observers to focus on ballots which were still being counted. The same exact process took place. The atmosphere was a bit tense in the beginning but the nonchalance of the SOE’s staff and the confident way in which everything was done made all of us very comfortable with the recount process.
When the Leon County Canvassing Board met, its members went slowly and deliberately through each ballot in the “?” box. Again, observers representing the political parties could inspect each ballot. There was never a rush to judgment. In almost all cases, the opinion by the party representatives matched the unanimous opinions of the three members of the Canvassing Board. In the rare circumstances when there was a difference of opinion between the party observers, the Canvassing Board would carefully listen to each side’s positions, look over the ballot, consider the arguments and made its decision. There was never a feeling in the room that the Canvassing Board had a goal in mind of only respecting Democratic or Republican ballots which led all of us to have faith in the final decisions. Curiously, even if the Canvassing Board decided contrary to the wishes of one party over the other, I never heard any grumbling by the losing side.
This is exactly the way that a vote recount should take place. Leon County offers a model for the rest of the nation.
Unfortunately, that was not how it was done in all counties in Florida. Just look at the abuses in Broward and Palm Beach Counties before Gov. Ron DeSantis replaced election supervisors and put competent and impartial people in control in each county.
More importantly, this is not the process we are hearing about in Pennsylvania where observers were originally kept outside the building, 100 feet away and were even blocked from seeing anything because staff boarded up the windows. This makes it apparent that vote-counters have something to hide and will raise suspicions and questions, making the entire process a farce. The unmistakable conclusion is that a lack of transparency leads to potential abuse and fraud. Even the federal judge’s emergency decision that observers can be within six feet is a joke since the observers will not be able to see anything on the ballot.
Our election systems need to have free and unfettered access to the ballots. That is what the norm should be and what Americans expect. Anything less undermines confidence in our election system and gives Trump the right to offer a court challenge on whether the process is being followed fairly.
The courts will be the ultimate determinant of who rightfully won the presidency under the rule of law. This is shameful. It does not have to be this way. But if state officials are going to bend the rules and procedures to meet their own desires instead of having a clean and unquestioned vote count, then we will end up with a decision that is flawed.
My prediction is that the Mainstream Media and the Far Left and progressives will declare former Vice President Joe Biden as the winner before recounts are finished and the courts have had their say. However, when this issue eventually gets to the U.S. Supreme Court, the decision may very well decide otherwise based on Democratic sleight-of-hand machinations where suddenly questionable ballots are being counted.
This could be the last nail in the coffin of cynics who see the system working overtime to protect itself from outsiders like Trump. Democrats were unprepared to keep Trump from winning last time. This time out, they are like lemmings in wanting to do everything possible to preclude a second term for the president, especially if they can change the initial result. Then they will cry that the courts stole the election–but that will only be the case because Democrats forced the Republicans to go to court to get a true and fair result.
Barney Bishop III, a conservative Democrat is a former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party (1991-93). He is the immediate past Chief Executive Officer of Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), founded in 1920, and known as “The Voice of Florida Business.” Currently, he is the President and CEO of Barney Bishop Consulting, LLC, a strategic public affairs firm in Tallahassee. He can be reached via Barney@BarneyBishop.com.