By Brittany Wallman
There’s one less excuse for not voting in the coming elections. The absentee ballots won’t require postage.
Broward Supervisor of Elections Dr. Brenda Snipes has agreed to send absentee ballots postage-paid, after county commissioners made the request in hopes it would increase voter turnout.
Snipes also has agreed to seek a Florida Bar ethics decision about whether she should continue allowing her office’s contract attorney to contribute to or participate in political campaigns on the side.
Snipes made the decisions after meeting for three hours Wednesday with Broward Commissioner Mark Bogen, who had challenged Snipes at a recent budget workshop.
County commissioners can’t tell Snipes how to run her office; she’s a countywide elected official. But they can ask.
The county announced the detente Thursday in a “joint statement” from Bogen and Snipes.
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Bogen, elected after a litigious 2014 season involving his District 2 seat, complained that the attorney representing the elections office in the lawsuits had contributed to one of his opponents.
Bogen asked Snipes not to allow attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks to be involved in political campaigns, or if she is, to withdraw from giving legal advice to the elections office in those races.
Asked at the budget workshop several weeks ago, where Norris-Weeks was not present, Snipes said she couldn’t commit to the ethics request at that time.
She has now agreed to seek a Florida Bar ethics opinion on the matter, and to follow it.
“That’s a great first step,” Bogen said Thursday.
Norris-Weeks contributed to one of Bogen’s opponents in last year’s county District 2 race. But she also represented the elections office in litigation over that race. Norris-Weeks gave to both sides in at least two other 2014 County Commission races — Barbara Sharief’s and Chip LaMarca’s — giving checks from either her personal account or from Right Consulting LLC, in which she’s a managing member.
In the 2016 elections, she has given via Right Consulting to Commissioner Dale Holness, campaign contribution records show.
She also supported the Fort Lauderdale City Commission candidacy of Donna Guthrie in the race won in February by Robert McKinzie. That race also became embroiled in litigation.
Several commissioners asked Snipes to send absentee ballots postage-paid. She said she’ll do it, the joint statement says, “so long as the commission provides the necessary funding.”
Here’s the joint statement:
County Commissioner Bogen and Supervisor of Elections Snipes Meet to Identify Solutions to Issues Raised in a Recent Commission Budget Workshop
Broward County Commissioner Mark Bogen and Supervisor of Elections Dr. Brenda C. Snipes scheduled a meeting recently to discuss several issues from a County Commission budget workshop. The three -hour meeting focused on issues of establishing policies for contributing to political campaigns and the feasibility of adding prepaid postage to the absentee ballot return envelope, a measure that could increase voter participation and turnout.
During a recent budget workshop, County Commissioner Bogen and Supervisor of Elections Snipes engaged in heated discussions about the needs for an ethics policy for the SOE’s general counsel. Bogen claimed that a conflict, or an appearance of a conflict existed when the attorney for the supervisor contributes to a campaign and also provides legal advice to the SOE. Snipes disagreed stating that her attorney did not participate in the canvassing of returns and was not the attorney for the canvassing board. Also, at the budget workshop Bogen voiced concern that voters should not have to pay anything to return absentee ballots. Snipes agreed but there was disagreement on where funding for the absentee ballots would come from within the SOE’s budget.
Yesterday, Commissioner Bogen and Dr. Snipes met to resolve their differences. Following the meeting, the parties agreed that Snipes’ attorney would seek an ethics opinion from the Florida Bar and abide by the opinion provided. On the second issue regarding pre-paid postage placed on return envelopes for absentee ballots, Bogen and Snipes agreed that by having postage on absentee ballots, voter turnout may increase and the need for voters to return their ballots by a third party would be eliminated. So long as the Commission provides the necessary funding, Dr. Snipes will initiate this program that will benefit all Broward voters.
“I applaud the Supervisor of Elections in seeking to resolve our differences and look forward to working with her on behalf of all Broward voters,” said Bogen