Feds probe Florida election official

Feds probe Florida election official

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

The FBI has joined an investigation of the Broward County, Fla. elections office and its supervisor, Miriam Oliphant, according to a report by the Miami Herald.

The newspaper said federal agents are looking in particular at Oliphant’s role in the awarding of a very lucrative contract for voting machines.

Specifically, the FBI wants to know if Oliphant demanded companies bidding for the contract furnish additional money for voter outreach in exchange for her vote.

The Herald said some sources claimed Oliphant asked that voter education contracts be guided toward organizations of her choice. Oliphant could be held personally responsible if she did make such demands of voting machine manufacturers.

The Herald said the FBI has interviewed an employee of one of the voting machine companies, and the Broward County State’s Attorney’s office has questioned several people about the allegations.

Oliphant and eight commissioners were on the committee that heard proposals from four voting machine companies who were vying for the $17 million contract. That took place in fall 2001.

Florida law bars elected officials from using their offices to get special privileges, benefits or exemptions for themselves or others. Federal agents have the authority to investigate state and local officials for possible violations of federal statutes dealing with bribery, graft, conflict of interest, embezzlement and extortion.

In line with its policy, the FBI would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation. State prosecutors said only that they are researching whether people failing to report unopened ballots could be charged with a crime.

Two weeks ago, investigators removed a tray of unopened ballots from a file cabinet in the elections office. Present and former county employees have been questioned about the ballots and whether they have any knowledge of contract negotiations for voting equipment.

Four companies were in the running for the award. They are: Election Systems & Software, Sequoia Voting Systems of California, Global Election Systems of Ohio, and Dell/Hart Intercivic of Texas. Oliphant’s first choice was Sequoia. The commissioners favored ES&S of Nebraska.

In Louisiana two years ago, a former election official was sent to prison for five years for accepting many thousands of dollars in kickbacks from Sequoia. A salesman for Sequoia Pacific was awaiting trial on related charges.

The Herald said Oliphant was not required to follow competitive bidding in her own office, but election equipment came under the county’s purchasing guidelines, which she was obligated to observe.

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