By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
It’s likely just a crazy coincidence, but the Florida Supreme Court somehow became the subject of both of Palm Beach County’s absentee ballot printing errors this election.
A few weeks ago, 60,000 absentee ballots in Palm Beach County were found to be defective. The problem: a header was missing from a part of the ballot asking voters to retain three embattled Florida Supreme Court justices. Thousands of those ballots are now being hand copied on to other ballots.
Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince are under attack by conservative political action groups and the Republican Party of Florida. The three justices were appointed by a Democratic governor and conservative groups are asking voters to vote them off the bench. If that happens, Gov. Rick Scott would be tasked with appointing replacement justices.
This week, Palm Beach County discovered another absentee ballot problem, and this one also affects the Florida Supreme Court.
According to Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post, the supervisor of elections there, Susan Bucher, had to send new absentee ballots to 500 people in the county because they were also defective:
The new mistake is different — and, some say, potentially more serious — than the one that prompted Bucher to hire dozens of workers, who have spent the past week hand-copying an estimated 27,000 absentee ballots. In that case, a header was missing from judicial races, making it impossible for vote tabulation equipment to read the ballots.
Instead of being confused by a missing header, those who received the new flawed ballots are losing the chance to vote on one of 11 proposed amendments to the state constitution. Because one of the pages on the ballot was duplicated twice and one wasn’t printed at all, those same voters will be able to vote twice for three of the proposed amendments.
The new mistake allowed voters to vote twice on Amendments 1, 2 and 3, but completely left out Amendment 5.
Amendment 5 proposes a change to the Florida Constitution that would require the Florida Senate to confirm state Supreme Court nominees. If passed, it would also allow the Florida Legislature to repeal court rules with a majority, which is 50 percent plus one. Right now, the legislature needs a supermajority to repeal standing rules for the state Supreme Court.
Some consider Amendment 5 a power grab by the state Legislature following a series of losses for the GOP-led Legislature in the state Supreme Court.
There is some back and forth as to whether these printing errors stem from a problem at the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections or at Runbeck Election Services, an Arizona-based printing company in charge of printing the county’s absentee ballots. Runbeck also printed absentee ballots for a county in Maryland, which reported problems with the printing service.