Poll workers' chief recalls '02 chaos
The ex-supervisor of elections is expected to testify today in the hearing to determine whether she'll get her job back.
BY EVAN S. BENN
Testimony in Miriam Oliphant's Florida Senate trial Thursday centered on the chaotic September 2002 primary election and a budget crisis while she was Broward elections supervisor.
Lawyers for Gov. Jeb Bush rested their Broward County phase of the case against Oliphant after three hours of testimony by Pat Nesbit, the head of poll workers. They expect to call more witnesses next week when the trial moves to Tallahassee.
Meanwhile, County Commissioner John Rodstrom Jr. gave testimony that may have helped Oliphant's cause.
Nesbit, who was fired by Oliphant only to be rehired after Brenda Snipes replaced the suspended election chief, testified that she got word at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 10, 2002, that the governor had ordered polls to remain open until 9 p.m.
But, she said, she was told by Rick Riley, a spokesman Oliphant had hired, not to alert poll clerks of the governor's order until he and Oliphant prepared a statement.
That didn't happen until 6 p.m., leaving too little time to inform roughly 500 polling places by the only means available individual phone calls. Consequently, many polling places closed early.
On the witness stand Thursday afternoon, Riley said he never told Nesbit not to contact the poll clerks.
Other testimony on the fourth day of the two-week trial came from Rodstrom and Ken Lieberman, an accountant for Oliphant's office.
Rodstrom told Oliphant's attorney, Henry Hunter, that Oliphant's $900,000 budget deficit was not all her fault.
''There were a number of things that caused a chaotic situation,'' Rodstrom said, citing expensive electronic voting machines and the addition of new precincts.
''The voting machines were more costly to operate than we originally thought,'' he said. ``The commission didn't figure on the additional expenses.''
On cross-examination by Bush's lawyers, Rodstrom acknowledged that Oliphant spent money in other areas that went beyond her budget.
In 2002, Oliphant hired 10 people to work on voter-outreach programs when her budget only allotted two employees for outreach, Rodstrom said.
Hunter said he subpoenaed other county commissioners, but they did not respond. He declined to say who they were.
Thursday's testimony mirrored accounts from earlier in the week.
Lawyers for Bush focused on Oliphant's budget mismanagement and the dozens of polling places that opened late or closed early during the September 2002 primary. Meanwhile, Oliphant's attorney guided witnesses through testimony that characterized her as a competent, passionate supervisor.
Bush suspended Oliphant without pay in November, saying she had grossly mismanaged the election office since being elected to the post in January 2001.
Steve Kahn, the Senate's general counsel, is presiding over the hearing and will recommend to the Senate about whether to reinstate Oliphant.