Florida County Low on Election Funds

Broward County's new elections chief has asked county commissioners to approve a $1.5 million emergency cash advance to cover the cost of the Nov. 5 election.

The official, Joe Cotter, told commissioners Monday that the elections office is running out of money because Elections Supervisor Miriam Oliphant overspent her budget by $900,000 in the fiscal year that ended Oct. 1.

Cotter said he will eventually need to ask the commission to increase his funding because the financial problems are too great to fix through cutbacks alone.

Cotter took over most of Oliphant's responsibilities after the widespread problems of the Sept. 10 primary. It took Florida a week to determine that Bill McBride narrowly defeated former Attorney General Janet Reno in the Democratic primary for governor, in large part because of problems Broward and Miami-Dade counties had opening and closing polls and tallying votes.

The problems, reminiscent of the protracted 2000 presidential election, were blamed on poor organization and a lack of training on the new computerized voting systems.

Under pressure from Gov. Jeb Bush and other officials, Oliphant agreed to let the county commission run the general election, though she remains in her elected post.

Oliphant declined to comment to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on Cotter's request for the emergency loan. Several commissioners were skeptical about giving out the money so early in the fiscal year.

"I don't want to advance all the money and then six months out there be no money and no game plan to deal with that,'' Commission Chairwoman Lori Parrish said. "We need some realistic basis to do this because it seems like they are headed for trouble.''

Parrish and other commissioners requested a detailed plan on how the elections office will rein in spending. They also wanted more answers to allegations that Oliphant misspent her money.