"I wish I had a 10th of the perceived power they claim I have," she says.
She doesn't actually have the authority to buy or modify voting machines. They were purchased by the county commission. The commission has already agreed to buy printers that can be attached to the machines and provide a paper trail -- but they won't be ready for this year's election.
The situation became more confounding last week with the disclosure that electronic voting machines used in Broward and Miami-Dade counties have a faulty auditing system, and each will need a laptop computer attached to it this fall. Each laptop will itself be vulnerable to flaws or fraud, Wexler says.
"This is bigger than a debacle," he says. "We now know without even casting a single vote in the 2004 general election there's an enormous problem."
LePore thinks Wexler's suit is not really about the machines but about punishment. Of her.
"It's obvious what's going on. It's me. It has nothing to do with the price of beans."
Federal Judge James Cohn held a hearing on Wexler's suit earlier this month in Fort Lauderdale, a rare chance for Wexler and LePore to occupy the same room. The judge heard an attorney for the state decry the plaintiffs' "fear mentality," "mania" and "paranoia." But the lawyers for Wexler et al. talked of strange quirks in the new touch-screen machines. In one special election with only two candidates, 134 people somehow went all the way to the polls and never recorded a vote. The suspicion is that there's something screwy with the machines.
After the hearing, Wexler held a news conference with his allies out on the sidewalk next to noisy Broward Boulevard. Among those with him were Anderson, the professor who is running for LePore's job.
"Every vote must count," Anderson said into the cameras. "We must have a verifiable paper trail." The professor is by nature low-key and earnest, which might make it hard for him to be heard in the amplified political arena of South Florida. There are two other candidates in the supervisor of elections race, Glenn MacLean and Ellie Whittey. But Anderson's got Wexler.
The congressman stood in the sun in jacket and tie and didn't break a sweat. He denied fear-mongering. He brought the suit in the calm of spring to avoid a November catastrophe, he said. He said of LePore and the other defendants, "Rather than trusting the voters . . . they perceive their statutory duty to be protecting the machines that they elected to purchase. Stubbornly, they've dug in."
LePore and Wexler managed to avoid each other all morning. At one point she said, laughing, "My attorney has to keep reminding me that it's a federal offense to threaten a congressman."
Even before the flap about the touch-screen machines, many people doubted that their votes would count. County Commissioner Addie Greene fears that her constituents, many of them African American, will simply stay home on Election Day. Anger is good, she said, but only if put to a good use.
"I want the anger to make them go back and make a lie out of the Bush administration. You will not do it again!" Greene says.
Trust is a precious commodity in a democracy. The voters have to trust the system. And LePore is now trusting her future to the voters. With her shields up.
"I'm always on guard," she says. "I used to be a very trusting person."
There's no easy way to predict what will happen in this particular election. LePore is far better known than any of her challengers, for better or worse. No one takes opinion polls at this level of the game. After all, it's just a race for the county supervisor of elections.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company