Florida official: “Bad things can happen” during 2020 election if U.S. doesn’t do more
Broward Supervisor of Elections Peter Antonacci said Wednesday that a determined effort to hack elections — if it’s undertaken by the military of a significant foreign adversary — could prove successful.
Antonacci said in an interview he was acknowledging the obvious reality, even though it’s something many people don’t want to recognize.
“If the military organizations of our adversaries around the world decide to do something, technically they have the capability to do it,” he said. “There are forces bigger than us and people much bigger than us that may wish us wrong. If they have the intent and capacity, bad things can happen.”
Antonacci said publicly offering the assessment isn’t the kind of thing that will endear him to the broad universe of people who run elections, including other county elections supervisors. “My fellow supervisors will probably drum me out of the club,” he said. “The general thing people in my business like to say is ‘Everything’s OK.’”
Antonacci, who oversees elections in Florida’s second-largest county, said his job is to make sure that Broward County has as many safeguards as it can and to have systems in place that can detect if and when something happens. “What we can do as little people in that drama is make sure our system is protected as much as possible.”
Election security has become a major issue since Russia attempted to meddle in the 2016 presidential election — efforts that included into some voter registration systems but not, officials say, actual voting systems.
Antonacci said the possibility of such an intrusion isn’t what keeps him up at night. Rather, he said, it’s the potential for an accumulation of myriad events and decisions that can combine to have major ramifications during an election even though they may seem minor when seen in isolation.
It was that kind of cumulative effort of multiple decisions that contributed to the massive problems Broward experienced during the 2018 midterm elections and recount — and made the county the subject of nationwide scorn.
“Little things have huge consequences. Small, silly things have consequences,” Antonacci said. “What you saw during the November election was the accumulation of a lot of small decisions that … had the kind of domino effect.”
Brought in for change
Antonacci was appointed shortly after the 2018 recount concluded. He was assigned to clean up the office’s operations.
Former Gov. Rick Scott removed Brenda Snipes, the longtime elected supervisor of elections and installed Antonacci, even though she had already submitted her resignation to take effect after Scott left office.
Antonacci has held a variety of senior roles — general counsel to the governor, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, appointed Palm Beach County state attorney, CEO of the Enterprise Florida economic development agency — under Scott, who is now Florida’s junior Republican U.S. senator. Antonacci used to work for Democrat Bob Butterworth, who is both a former state attorney general and former Broward sheriff.
In a lengthy interview with editorial writers and reporters at the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Antonacci also said something many elections supervisors have said in the past: That elections are complex undertakings, involving early voting, voting by mail, and Election Day voting. Election Day involves voting at 425 locations and the hiring of 4,000 to 7,000 temporary workers.
As a result: there will be mistakes, he said. “No election is going to be perfect,” he said. “Things are going to go off the rails a little bit. The system has to have some tolerance for mistakes. You should not have any tolerance for intrusion of course.”
For example, he said, there weren’t enough trained staff with appropriate schedules to run tabulation machines for ballots mailed in before Election Day in 2018. He also said more tabulation machines have been ordered in advance of 2020 voting. He said staff should be trained and scheduled so tabulating could take place 18 hours a day. Failing to do so in 2018, he said, meant the office was overwhelmed with mail ballots by the time voting was over.
When he took office, Antonacci said “found a dispirited and demoralized staff” that included many good employees.
Antonacci said that he found many of the people working at the office were friends and family members of other employees. He said that isn’t automatically disqualifying; everyone deserves a chance to prove their ability to do the job “even if they arrived because they’re in the same gene pool as someone else.”
Of 11 people on the management team when he arrived, two are gone. He said he invited one to resign and encouraged another to retire.
Of the total staff of 75, he said there’s been turnover of about 10.
Antonacci said he wouldn’t do anything that would lead to “diminution” of early voting during the 2020 elections. However, he said, it’s possible that some early voting locations could be moved.
Some locations may have low usage because they’re close to other early voting sites. Others may not be convenient. He said the low-turnout early-voting site at Nova Southeastern University may be moved. Adding early voting locations at colleges has been a priority for Democrats and liberal political organizations.
Of Broward County’s 22 early voting sites in the November 2018 election, NSU came in a distant last place with 4,871 voters. The next worst location had 6,991 voters, and it was just two miles from another early voting site. Both were in Pompano Beach.
He said finding locations for early voting and Election Day voting in neighborhoods is difficult.
Some management companies that work on behalf of condominium associations don’t want the hassle of having voting in their facilities, and encourage the condo boards to reject voting even though the condo residents like it.
Antonacci said he no longer wants Broward to lag the state, and sometimes the nation, in reporting accurate election results.
The goal, Antonacci said, is for Broward’s 2020 election results to be “timely and accurate and to beat the pants off of everybody. … My goal is to be first.”
Antonacci, 71, who doesn’t plan to run for the job in the 2020 election, said he has a particular incentive to get the job done well. “I don’t want my grandchildren to read my name in the paper in a negative way.”
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